Newly-released statistics have revealed that central government departments dealt with 13% more Freedom of Information Act (FoI) requests in the third quarter of this year than in the same period of 2014.
The rising average figure for the July-September period masks year-on-year increases of more than two-thirds at one department. The data published today by the Cabinet Office also reveals that response times for requests lodged with the Ministry of Justice have worsened significantly at a time when information watchdog the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is already monitoring poor performance levels.
According to the Cabinet Office data, 8,157 non-routine FoI requests were lodged with departments of state in the third quarter of this year, up from 7,239 in the same quarter of 2014, an increase of 12.68%.
By volume the Department for Work and Pensions received the most requests at, 1,322 – a 19.74% increase on the 2014 figure, but a more moderate 4.01% quarter-on-quarter increase.
Although it fielded a smaller number of requests – at 148 for the quarter – the Department for International Development registered the highest year-on-year increase, at 74.11%. Quarter-on-quarter, DfID saw a 28.65% increase.
The Department of Health received 383 FoI queries during the quarter, down 15.08%, year-on-year.
Under the FoI Act – which grants access to information held by public bodies – departments are required to respond to requests from members of the public within 20 days, or in time to meet an agreed extension. Public bodies are required to answer at least 85% of queries within that timeframe.
In September the ICO announced that it would be probing the MoJ’s poor response time of 76%, which it described as “well below” the target. The latest figures show a deterioration, with MoJ only answering 65% of queries within the 20-day limit. The average for departments of state is 81%.
An ICO spokeswoman said the watchdog was “continuing to monitor the MoJ” as per its announcement.