ICO launches self-assessment Freedom of Information toolkit for public authorities

THE INFORMATION Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has launched an online toolkit to assist public authorities in responding to Freedom of Information requests as organisations prepare to recover from the Coronavirus pandemic.

The toolkit is designed to help public authorities self-assess their performance in responding to Freedom of Information requests. It generates a bespoke report which helps to identify areas for improvement and where action needs to be taken.

Deborah Clark, manager for insight and compliance at the ICO, said: “While the ICO remains pragmatic in its regulatory approach, we also now expect organisations to start putting clear plans in place such that they can be back on track with their Freedom of Information-focused work. The Freedom of Information toolkit will support public authorities to do just that.”

This first phase of the toolkit focuses on timeliness, a fundamental requirement of the Freedom of Information Act. It’s split into five modules covering response rates, handling requests, training and awareness, compliance and assurance and governance structure. Further toolkit developments will see other issues addressed, such as where the cost of compliance exceeds the appropriate limit.

The toolkit, which can be completed either in stages or in full, works by asking the user to assess performance against a set of criteria. Each module generates a report showing an overall rating in the area, an action plan and helpful web links to relevant guidance.

Clark continued: “This toolkit is a practical way for public authorities to assess where they are now and what they can do to improve as they return to greater capacity. We hope it will become a staple part of Freedom of Information practitioners’ continual learning and help promote good practice which will contribute towards building trust and confidence with the public.”

Prior to launch, the toolkit was tested among a range of public authorities and received positive feedback and input for improvement. The ICO also received assistance from the Scottish Information Commissioner during the toolkit’s development stage.

The toolkit can be used to assess compliance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000 as well as the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.

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