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[Image: www.eastgippsland.net.au]

[Image: www.eastgippsland.net.au]

When the government wants information from a citizen, you have to provide it within a certain time limit under threat of sanction. Why is it, then, that the government is allowed all the time in the world when the roles are reversed?

The story so far: A long time ago (May 28, 2014, in fact), This Writer submitted a Freedom of Information request, asking for the the number of incapacity benefits claimants who had died between the end of November 2011 and May 28, 2014.

The DWP claimed to have answered with a ‘statistical release’ on August 27 this year, but I proved that this answered only those parts of the request that suited the DWP’s own purposes and called on the Information Commissioner to demand that the DWP provide the information in a timely manner – or be convicted of Contempt of Court.

On September 25 I had an email from the Information Commissioner’s Office, saying the DWP had pleaded for more time to make a “substantive” response, but may be able to answer the ICO’s queries about the matter – let alone my FoI request! – by October 2.

Having heard nothing by the end of last week – seven days after the deadline – I got back in touch with the ICO. Today I had a reply, to the effect that the DWP “has not been able to provide a final and substantive response at the time of writing.  It has therefore asked for a further short extension in which to reply”.

The solicitor handling the case believes the Commissioner’s position on any future action needs to be more fully informed by way of further explanation from the DWP, and has therefore granted the extension – but added: “In the event that the DWP does not provide a substantive response by the end of this week, I will seek instructions … as to how to proceed.”

Let’s bear in mind that to prove contempt of court, it must be shown that the DWP has contumeliously (it means scornfully and insultingly; insolently) disregarded the Information Commissioner’s decision that it should divulge all the information I requested. That decision was made on April 30 this year, meaning the DWP has managed to delay honouring that decision by more than five months (so far).

I would say that constitutes contumelious disregard, wouldn’t you?

In response to the email, I have written back as follows: “As far as I can see, the DWP is stringing you along with promises that it doesn’t intend to keep – or perhaps only when it suits ministers. This is not acting in good faith.

“It is many months since the full, complete and unabridged information should have been published. Look at what this organisation has done to prevent that publication – appealing against the Information Commissioner’s ruling, then withdrawing that appeal after several months in order to claim that a limited release of heavily-edited information was a full and frank disclosure, and now delaying from one week to the next.

“This is not acceptable.”

Having withdrawn its appeal against the Information Commissioner’s decision, Iain Duncan Smith must provide all the information I requested – including the full number of people who died after being found fit for work, not just those dying within a two-week period of the end of their claim – or be in contempt of court.

The information should prove extremely interesting, in the light of a coroner’s finding that a DWP ‘fit for work’ decision directly contributed to the death of Michael O’Sullivan in late 2013. The coroner’s verdict was recorded in January 2014 – more than a year before the DWP started issuing – false – claims that there is no evidence to suggest a causal link between DWP benefit decisions and the deaths of claimants.

Some may say that it is impossible to draw any conclusions without this vital information from the DWP.

Some may say the fact that the DWP is failing to provide it – after almost a year and a half – tells us all we need to know.

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