Government spent hundreds of thousands of pounds blocking FOI requests

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·3-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Jeremy Hunt - JESSICA TAYLOR /UK PARLIAMENT/AFP/Getty Images
Jeremy Hunt - JESSICA TAYLOR /UK PARLIAMENT/AFP/Getty Images

The Government has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money blocking the release of information to the public, it has emerged.

In the past five years, six departments have spent more than half a million pounds trying to block requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI).

The biggest spender was the Department of Health, which spent more than £100,000 of public money on a single case aimed at preventing the release of ministerial diaries.

Other Whitehall departments refused to reveal their spending on fighting decisions by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), saying that calculating their spend would cost too much.

'Stop using public money to hide from public scrutiny'

The research by openDemocracy led to calls for Ministers “to stop using public money to hide from public scrutiny”.

A series of FOIs revealed that since 2016 six departments have spent at least half a million pounds challenging decisions by the ICO that they should release information to the public.

This includes the Department of Health, which spent £129,000 trying to block the release of then Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt’s diaries. Eventually, a judge ruled that they should be redacted and then handed over.

The same department, which has spent a total of almost £300,000, used £20,000 trying to stop a journalist from obtaining information about fire safety in hospitals and has spent £87,000 so far blocking the release of drafts of a policy document about childhood obesity.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spent £38,950 trying to block a journalist who had asked to see copies of official ministerial diaries.

The Department for Work and Pensions has sparked three appeals against the ICO since 2018, spending over £80,000 and the Department for Education racked up a bill of more than £52,000.

The Cabinet Office, Home Office and Department for Transport were among those who refused to reveal their spending because it would cost too much to calculate.

Culture of 'secrecy and evasion'

The research comes amid concern that the Government is blocking the release of sensitive FOI requests and operating a culture of “secrecy and evasion”.

A separate poll by Savanta ComRes has found that nearly three-quarters of UK adults are concerned about the number of departments refusing FOI requests.

Peter Geoghegan, editor-in-chief of openDemocracy, said: “At a time when the public are concerned about government secrecy it is deeply ironic that government departments are spending hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money to hide information from the public. Ministers need to stop using public money to hide from public scrutiny.”

A government spokesperson said: “The Government is committed to being as transparent as possible, but when considering FOI requests we have to balance the need to make information available with our duty to protect sensitive information.

“Just like any other public authority, under the FOI Act the government has a right to appeal ICO rulings and set out our position when we feel there is a need to protect particularly sensitive information, including related to national security and personal data.

“We are routinely disclosing information beyond our obligations under the FOI Act, and releasing more proactive publications than ever before.”

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting