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140101appeal

The Information Commissioner and the Department of Work and Pensions will have to defend, before a tribunal, their decision to refuse my Freedom of Information request on claimant mortality.

Readers will recall that this blog, along with others, has been trying to use official channels to secure publication of the number of people who died while going through the claim process for Incapacity Benefit or Employment and Support Allowance during 2012.

This process has been drawn out beyond reason; the first request for the information was made before that year ended, and it is now 2014. First, the DWP flatly refused to provide any information, saying it had no intention to publish the figures – this was despite having published a statistical release on claimant deaths in 2011. Then, after I submitted a FoI request, the claim was that it was “vexatious”, and I had launched an “orchestrated” campaign “deliberately designed to irritate or harass the department and/or disrupt its business” – all based on a line at the end of the Vox Political article on the subject, in which I suggested readers who felt strongly about it might like to submit a FoI request of their own.

The Information Commissioner upheld the DWP’s decision, claiming that the most significant factor in his decision was that “the complainant runs an on-line blog in which the main focus is the DWP and their ‘cover-up’ on the number of Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance claimants who have died in 2012”. This is clearly unsupportable, as would be clear to anybody glancing through the blog.

In this context, it is my pleasure to announce that HM Courts and Tribunals Service has accepted my notice of appeal and a hearing will be held, with all parties present, between the end of March and mid-May, 2014. The date has yet to be confirmed.

While this has been going on, Michael Meacher MP has submitted a Parliamentary Question on the same subject (you can read about it on his blog). If he succeeds in getting the information before I can, I still intend to go ahead with the appeal.

It is important that government departments should not believe they can crush a legitimate request for information that is a matter of pubilc interest by playing fast and loose with the Freedom of Information Act.

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