Government full FoI responses fall below 40% for first time

Treasury, Foreign Office and DLUHC each responded in full to less than a quarter of inquiries
Image: Arek Socha/Pixabay

By Sam Trendall

03 May 2023

The proportion of Freedom of Information requests to which all requested information was supplied fell below 40% for the first time last year, newly released figures have revealed.

Annual data published by the Cabinet Office shows that 52,662 FoI requests were made to public bodies in 2022. Only 39% of these resulted in the request for information being granted in full. This marks the first time that fewer than two in every five requests have been granted a full response.

In 2005, the year in which the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act came into force, two-thirds of the 38,108 requests made during the year were provided with all information requested.

The proportion of requests that were granted in full remained above 60% for the first four years of the act’s lifespan and, during 2013, the figure stood at 55%. It fell sharply – to 50% – the following year, and has continued to steadily decline in the years since then before, finally, failing to meet 40% for the first time in 2022.

Last year, the central government department with by far the lowest proportion of fully granted requests was HM Treasury, with just 17% of FoI inquiries receiving the all the requested information.

There were four other departments that fully responded to no more than a quarter of requests: the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on 23%; the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on 24%; and the Cabinet Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, both on 25%. 

The National Archives – which received 7,905 requests during the year, more than any other public body – also provided all requested information in only 23% of cases.

At the other end of the scale, the Department for Transport granted in full 69% of the 3,098 requests it received in 2022, while the Department for Education, which received 2,191 requests, had a full-response rate of 58%.

These were the only two central-government bodies to receive more than 1,000 requests and respond in full to more than 50%.

Last year, 80% requests received a response within the mandated timeframe of 20 working days. This is the lowest annual rate since the 77% figure of 2005, the year public bodies were first required to handle FoI duties.

In each year from 2010 to 2019, between 85% and 87% of requests were responded to within the 20-day time limit. This dropped to 81% in both 2020 and 2021, before declining slightly again this year.

Sam Trendall is editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology, where this story first appeared

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