Wigan Council criticised for missing information deadline

Wigan town hall
Wigan town hall

Information watchdogs have criticised Wigan Council for missing a deadline to provide information about how it dealt with a complaint of harm to a vulnerable adult.

The local authority became the subject of a complaint lodged with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) after a disgruntled Wiganer failed to receive details about a “very serious” case following a Freedom of Information Act request.

The ICO found that the town hall had breached the FOI Act by not providing the aggrieved party with all the relevant information within the specified 20-day timeframe.

The complainant, who has signed the public responses as “Mr Adedeji” wrote to the council’s FOI department saying: “To remind you the 09/12/16 emailed formal complaint you received was in respect of very serious matters such as, for example; your response to a vulnerable adult claiming they had been harmed by a healthcare professional and also failed by various public bodies.”

The council responded on January 31 with a link to to the complaints webpage stating that copies of the legislation could be found there - but the link did not work which sparked off Mr Adedeji’s own complaint in which he requested an internal review be conducted.

Paul McKevitt, Wigan Council’s deputy chief executive and director of resources, said: “In this particular case the request was made through What do They Know and a response from the council was provided within the deadline.

“A link to the information on the council’s website, which was provided as part of the response, became corrupted before publication on What Do They Know website. This was not then reported to us until after the 20-day deadline.

“In the internal review which followed the ICO found that the council had released all information it held in relation to the request within the deadline.

“We are committed to being open and honest throughout all aspects of our organisation and work hard to respond in a timely manner.

“During 2017 we received 1,459 FOI requests, and 85 per cent were responded to within 20 days.”

The ICO has given the council chance to appeal the decision, but a council spokesperson has confirmed that they will not be taking this further.

They found that although the council did supply additional information to the webpage link, this was not until after the 20 working day period.

Under current legislation, FOI requesters have the right to complain to the ICO which is the regulator for Freedom of Information. There are no financial penalties for decision notices, which is currently the situation for the council, but there are monetary penalties for enforcement notices.

So far, the ICO has never issued an enforcement notice against Wigan Council.

All of the commissioner’s decision notices and enforcement notices are published on their website.

The council has confirmed that despite this mishap, this was the only ICO investigation regarding an FOI processed by Wigan Council during 2017.