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Distortion With Prejudice: Will we get some FACTS from the Department for Work and Pensions - or just more spin and spiel?

Distortion With Prejudice: Will we get some FACTS from the Department for Work and Pensions – or just more spin and spiel?

It seems our friends at Benefits and Work are a little behind the times.

In an article headlined ESA death statistics – DWP say they will publish details, but won’t say when, BaW detailed the (lack of) progress enjoyed by a Freedom of Information request it sent in after Yr Obdt Srvt lost his case at a tribunal over a previous attempt to wrestle up-to-date figures from the hands of the bureaucrats.

“The tribunal ruled against Sivier on the grounds that he had urged readers of his blog to submit similar requests for the information, saying that ‘There is strength in numbers’. This action, in the view of the tribunal, made the request a vexatious one which could properly refused,” the article stated.

“Nonetheless, the tribunal also found that had Sivier not tried to get others involved, his request would have been reasonable and even adding that ‘We have considerable sympathy for the Appellant’.

“Based on this decision, Benefits and Work made an application to the DWP for exactly the same information contained in the original request and drawing the DWP’s attention to the tribunal’s findings.”

That request was made on May 15. It seems odd that BaW then had to wait months for its reply, which only arrived after the DWP had responded to a renewed Vox Political request for exactly the same information, made on May 28. VP had its response on August 12; the DWP responded to BaW on September 10 – almost a month after the information in its response became available and nearly four months after the request was originally made.

By law, FOI requests must be answered within 20 working days. Unfortunately, there is no legal penalty for failure to respond.

“In relation to the request for the information about ESA deaths the DWP pointed out that they published the total number of deaths in July of this year.”

VP had that, too. It’s only a total number of deaths if nobody on ESA has died since the end of March 2012. Otherwise we can dismiss this feeble attempt to fob us off with the wrong figures.

“The response went on to say that: ‘We can confirm that we do intend to publish further statistics on this topic and these will answer a majority of your questions. As the statistics are intended for future publication this information is exempt from disclosure under the terms of Section 22 (Information intended for future publication) of the FOIA,’ the BaW article stated.

“However, the DWP added that ‘We do not have a definite publication date at this stage but we will pre-announce the agreed date here: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/announcements.’

“We have now requested a review of this decision and made it clear that if we do not receive a response within the statutory period we will immediately forward the correspondence to the Information Commissioner without further notice.”

This is exactly what Vox Political had from the DWP, and this blog has two observations to make:

Firstly, anyone making a Freedom of Information request of any kind to a government department should read this article, which shows how FoI legislation has been undermined by the bureaucrats.

Secondly, guidelines from the Information Commissioner indicate that the DWP has acted wrongly in using the s22 exemption to withhold the ESA death statistics from Benefits and Work and Vox Political. VP is happy to forward this information to Benefits and Work, to help that site with its own request.

If nothing else, the fact that Benefits and Work made its own FoI request after the failure of the ‘vexatious’ attempt by Vox Political proves that there is strong public support for the release of this information. VP knew nothing of the BaW request until yesterday (September 18) – who knows how many other requests have been made – only to have the DWP sit on them, illegally, for months on end?

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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