Information Commissioner says Freedom of Information Act should be extended

In a new report, Elizabeth Denham says it should cover all non-public-sector organisations that run public services, including charities

Elizabeth Denham
Elizabeth Denham

The Information Commissioner has called for the Freedom of Information Act to be expanded to include all non-public sector organisations, including charities, that run government services.

In a report called Outsourcing Oversight?, which was laid before parliament today, Elizabeth Denham said all organisations that run any public services should be within the scope of the FOI Act, which currently covers only government and public sector bodies.

The report says charities and social enterprises would be among the organisations brought within the scope of the act if the Information Commissioner’s Office’s proposals were acted upon.

"This report is not about whether certain methods are to be preferred," the report says. "It is about highlighting the clear risks to transparency and accountability when information held by such organisations is removed from the scrutiny offered by access to information law.

"The current law is not fit for purpose. It needs to keep pace with the changes in the modern public sector and public expectations."

Denham also called for reforms to the act in an article published by the Financial Times newspaper yesterday, in which she said that the UK was being left behind when it came to transparency and the accountability of government services.

"Legislators clearly intended information rights to adapt to changes in public sector delivery because the law includes a provision to bring contractors into their scope," the article said. "That provision has never been used."

It said that England and Wales were falling behind Scotland, which has its own separate freedom of information laws, and countries such as Mexico, South Africa and Hungary, all of which include private organisations that deliver public services within the scope of their similar laws.

"Strong laws create transparency, accountability and a knowledgeable and engaged citizenry," Denham’s article said. "We must catch up."

The article added that the Grenfell House disaster – and the fact that housing associations fell outside the scope of the FOI Act – was one of the incidents that prompted Denham to call for the reforms.

A previous attempt by the Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake to extend the FOI Act to charities failed in 2016.

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