Journalist calls ICO 'a shambles' after year-long FOI wait

Lancashire Evening Post assistant editor Mike Hill has branded the Information Commissioner's Office "a shambles" after waiting for almost a year for what he believes was a straightforward request under the Freedom of Information Act.

Last July, Hill (pictured) wrote to Lancashire County Council to find out how many local businesses had been successfully prosecuted for selling alcohol to underage children.

The authority already released occasional press releases highlighting some of the businesses that it had prosecuted for such an offence, but decided to reject the Post's request and its subsequent appeal.

Hill claims that councils elsewhere in the country have readily given out similar information to journalists.

In January, Hill lodged an appeal to the commissioner and was told his case had been "allocated to one of our case resolution teams… Due to the volume of complaints we are receiving at present, it may be up to two months before you hear from us."

Hill said the two months passed with no reply, so he wrote a further two letters, the last of which was on 16 May.

He then received a reply explaining that his request was "awaiting the assignment of a case resolution officer".

The letter said the office was still dealing with requests from April 2005.

It continued: "Cases are taken out of the queue in date-received order and anything under a year old is not being prioritised.

"If you have any overriding reasons why you believe that your case should be prioritised, please let us know."

Hill said: "This delay is clearly unacceptable and suggests two things. Most obviously, the department is wholly incapable of dealing with the volume of work it finds itself facing.

"But more seriously, the huge volume of requests it is dealing with could suggest public bodies are failing to discharge their duties under the Freedom of Information Act, resulting in a high number of appeals."

A spokesman for ICO said: "We are actively reviewing this case and we will be in touch with the complainant shortly.

"We have received more complaints than we anticipated and this means that we haven't been able to deal with complaints as quickly as we had planned.

"A whole raft of measures have now been put in place to speed up complaint handling.

"The Department for Constitutional Affairs' decision to award ICO extra funding for this financial year means we will use these extra resources to concentrate on resolving outstanding cases."

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