FOI Clearing House To Be Reassigned As Advisory Body

The Cabinet Office has announced it will reexamine the function of the “FOI Clearing House” after recommendations called for greater transparency and more protections for those submitting Freedom of Information requests.

A review of the Clearing House, led by Sue Langley, recommended the unit become an advisory body, instead of playing an authoritative role in the judgement of FOI requests.

The Cabinet Office has accepted this recommendation, agreeing to the redesign of the Clearing House and will work to “continue to play a central role in ensuring the Freedom of Information Act operates as intended by Parliament.”

Cabinet Office Minister Lord True said: “The Cabinet Office has held responsibility for the freedom of information policy since 2015 and, as part of the machinery of government change, took over the responsibility for operating a ‘FOI Clearing House’ function, which was established in 2004 under the then Labour Government.

“After nearly two decades, and in the light of recent criticisms and a continuing increase in the volume of FOI requests to central government, it is appropriate to review the operation function and to ascertain the optimum working model to support the effective operation of the Freedom of Information Act across government.”

The review also raised concerns over the numerous delays encountered when responding to FOI requests, with the Cabinet Office committing to improving the effiency of the department: “We will work to reconfigure the function to provide advice as efficiently to departments to enable them to meet their statutory obligations in a timely manner and to a high quality.”

In it’s submission to the PACAC inquiry, the NMA warned that the Cabinet Office and its internal unit, the Clearing House, could impede access to public interest information.

The Clearing House’s criteria in respect of requests involving sensitive information appeared to flag anything which was likely to attract publicity and anything from a media body – a practice at odds with freedom of speech in the UK.

The Cabinet Office also committed to improving the applicant blind process, ensuring that all requests would be treated the same, and to strengthening transparency through the establishment of new measures, such as continuing to publish information about the Cabinet Office’s role in freedom of information and producing FOI guidance and advice.

Read the report in full here.