FOIA under Review

The UK government has announced that the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) is to be reviewed and has set up a new Commission on Freedom of Information for that purpose.

Following the election many expected to find future changes to FOIA, which the government had hinted at to be included in the Queen’s Speech. However, this turned out not to be the case and instead the Commission on Freedom of Information has been established to conduct the review and report on its findings by November.

The Commission’s terms of reference include:

  • whether there is an appropriate public interest balance between transparency, accountability and the need for sensitive information to have robust protection;
  • whether the operation of the Act adequately recognises the need for a ‘safe space’ for policy development and implementation and frank advice; and
  • the balance between the need to maintain public access to information, and the burden of the Act on public authorities and whether change is needed to moderate that while maintaining public access to information.

The format chosen by the government is an interesting one as different issues it has previously ‘outsourced’ to cross-party commissions have not resulted in immediate results such as the runaway at Heathrow and the Commission on the Bill of Rights. However, the outcome of the review may be important as it could result in changes to FOIA including potentially extending its applicability to housing associations.

Simon Hughes in 2014 had said that a code of practice would be published to ensure that private companies performing public functions would have FOIA requirements in their contracts, which would also apply to housing associations although that did not come to fruition. More recently Eric Pickles has said that a Conservative government would force housing associations to comply with FOIA.

Across the border in Scotland, a consultation was conducted whether to extend FOIA to housing associations, although the Scottish government was not persuaded by the merits of extension since many housing associations undertake ‘private activities’ on an ‘entirely commercial basis’ and the Scottish Housing Regulator already enforced ‘significant additional regulatory obligations’. It has also been reported recently that Inside Housing has made a Freedom of Information Request to the Department for Communities and Local Government for Right to Buy analysis that the government has conducted in relation to the financial implications of the policy of extending right to buy discounts to housing association tenants. However, so far this request has been refused.

The full written statement to Parliament annoucing the review and establishing the Commission on Freedom of Information can be found here and we will provide additional updates as the review is conducted.

Forbes Solicitors has experience in assisting a range of clients in the housing sector, as well as charities and companies with information law advice including FOIA and data protection. For further details please contact Daniel Milnes.

Nat Avdiu

About Nat Avdiu

Nat Avdiu is a Paralegal in the Contracts and Projects team at Forbes Solicitors. Nat provides updates for clients on a range of issues including: governance, data protection and freedom of information, procurement and charity law.
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