York City Council have been responding strangely to a number of Freedom Of Information requests in recent days. Some perfectly reasonable FOI requests are being turned down for the strangest of reasons.
In light of the allegations of bullying by elected members in recent times, one Jack Hamilton made an FOI request concerning allegations of bullying by elected members of the council on the WhatDoTheyKnow site.
Jack wanted to know how many elected members had been involved in inappropriate behaviour. You’ll notice Jack didn’t want any names, just facts and figures.
“Please tell us how many allegations have been made of inappropriate behaviour against current Cabinet members in the last two years.”
“Please tell us how many allegations have been made of inappropriate behaviour against any elected member in the last two years.”
York City Council’s response was to inform Jack he wasn’t actually Jack Hamilton!
“Unfortunately your request does not fall within the definition of a valid request under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA).”
“To be valid under the FOIA, a request must fulfill the criteria set out in section 8 of the Act. Section 8 (1)(b) requires the requestor to provide their real name and address for correspondence.”
“We believe that you used a pseudonym and therefore consider your request invalid.”
“We may, however, be able to assist you with your request if you can provide your real name.”
The council has obviously read the text of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, but clearly they really don’t understand how the Act is enforced by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
The ICO considers it overly legalistic to seek proof of identity on a routine or even spot-check basis. The ICO further believes it would not be in the spirit of the Act or the ICO’s role in promoting access to official information.
The ICO’s guidance suggests that as a matter of good practice an authority should still consider a request made using a pseudonym where it is content to disclose the information requested and where identity is not relevant.
If the council again refuses to answer what appears to be a perfectly reasonable FOI request, then it would appear the council officer who ordered the FOI response is likely acting under political influence and not being apolitical.