Sector opposes extension of Freedom of Information Act

Four key umbrella bodies in England and Wales are urging the Ministry of Justice not to extend the remit of the Freedom of Information Act to cover charities delivering public services.

The ministry’s consultation document Freedom of Information Act 2000: Designation of Additional Public Authorities sets out plans to extend the powers contained in the act to cover organisations such as charities delivering public service contracts.

But the Charity Finance Directors’ Group, Acevo, the NCVO and the Wales Council for Voluntary Action have argued against the plans.

Ernese Skinner, policy and campaigns manager at the CFDG, said the administrative and financial burdens involved would fly in the face of previous Government commitments to develop the capacity of charities to participate in public service delivery. She added that scrutiny by the Charity Commission, Companies House and HM Revenue & Customs already guaranteed their transparency and accountability.

Seb Elsworth, head of policy at Acevo, said: “The last thing the sector needs is more barriers to delivering services. Any changes must avoid bureaucracy and be proportionate.”

The NCVO’s consultation response says extending the scope of the act would not be an appropriate or proportionate means of holding independent organisations to account. “It is the public body that is ultimately responsible for the service and its outcomes. It is therefore proper that greater responsibility for providing access to information about a service also lies with the public body,” it reads.

The Wales Council for Voluntary Action said the burden of complying with the act would be “excessive, and certainly limit or prejudice the ability of smaller organisations to engage in public service delivery”.

At the Charity Commission’s open board meeting last week, Rosie Chapman, executive director of policy and effectiveness, described dealing with FOI requests as “the price charities pay for entering into contracts” and urged them to negotiate the extra costs with the commissioning authority.

Scottish Freedom of Information legislation contains similar powers to designate extra public authorities, but they have never been used and there is no equivalent consultation about using them.

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