Information Commissioner rules on the cover-up of DWP-related deaths

What we're fighting for: It seems certain that Jacqueline Harris (pictured) died because her benefits were stripped from her after a one-question medical assessment. The DWP wants to hide the number of other people who are dying in similar circumstances.

What we’re fighting for: It seems certain that Jacqueline Harris (pictured) died because her benefits were stripped from her after a one-question medical assessment. The DWP wants to hide the number of other people who are dying in similar circumstances. [Picture: Daily Mirror]

Long-term readers will know that the author of this blog has spent the last few months trying to get officials at the Department for Work and Pensions to release mortality statistics for people undergoing the assessment procedure for Employment and Support Allowance.

It is in the public interest for the nation to know how many seriously ill or disabled people are dying while they wait to undergo the controversial Atos-run medical assessment, while they await the result, and while they appeal against a result that puts them in the wrong group or claims they are fit for work.

These deaths may be due to deterioration in their health – whether or not it was caused by the process – or suicide prompted by the process or the decision.

An initial Freedom of Information request was rejected by the DWP on the grounds that it was “vexatious”. I disputed that claim, and eventually had to appeal to the Information Commissioner for a ruling after ministers proved intractable.

The first obvious implication of this behaviour is that the number of deaths has been increasing and the DWP is trying to hide that fact from us. During 2012, when the department was still publishing the figures, we saw the average number of deaths leap from 32 per week to 73 per week.

The second obvious implication is that DWP policy is causing the deaths. With regard to this, your attention is drawn to the fact that this decision has been published a matter of days after it was revealed that Jacqueline Harris, of Kingswood, Bristol, died from a suspected overdose after the DWP signed her ‘fit for work’ – on the basis of a ‘medical assessment’ that consisted of one question – “Did you get here by bus?”

The partially-sighted former nurse, who required walking sticks, had a bad back and was in constant pain due to arthritis in her neck, lost all her benefits on the basis of her one-word answer – “Yes.” Amazingly, she lost an appeal against that decision and her death followed soon after.

An inquest has been opened and adjourned, so it is not possible to state the cause of death for certain – but any suggestion that the DWP decision was not a factor must beggar credulity.

That is the context in which the Information Commissioner’s ruling arrived.

You’re really not going to like it.

“The Commissioner’s decision is that the DWP has correctly applied the vexatious provision.”

It seems it is therefore impossible to use the Freedom of Information Act to extract this information from the Department for Work and Pensions. Ministers will never provide it willingly, so it seems we are at a dead end.

Apparently, “The DWP explained to the Commissioner that on 25 June 2013 they received 11 identical FOI requests and in the following days another 13 identical requests. They claim that this was the direct response to an online blog written by the complainant [that’s me] on 25 June 2013.

It seems that I am at fault for encouraging this as, after detailing my FOI request, I did write, “I strongly urge you to do the same. There is strength in numbers.” After a commenter asked if they could copy and past the request, I responded, “Sure, just make sure they know you’re making it in your own name”. And the following day, another commenter wrote, “If we swamp the DWP with requests they surely must respond”. Then on June 29, in another article, I added, “If you believe this cause is just, go thou and do likewise.”

The Information Commissioner’s decision notice states: “In this case, there were 24 identical requests which were sent to the DWP in a short space of time and the Commissioner has seen three identical complaints from the individuals that the DWP believes are acting in concert.

“Given that this issue was raised in a previous request at the end of 2012, it is apparent that the wording of the complainant’s online blog on 25 June 2013 prompted the numerous requests on this issue at the end of June 2013.

“Taking this into account the Commissioner has determined that there is sufficient evidence to link the requesters together and to accept they are acting in concert.”

It seems that there isn’t strength in numbers after all – or rather that the way that the large (by the DWP’s standards) number of us expressed ourselves was detrimental to our efforts. I take responsibility for that. I should have said that if you really believed in the issue, you needed to do something that was clearly separate from my own efforts. With hindsight this seems obvious, but only because we have all learned about the process as we went along. Would anybody have known better?

Regarding the impact of dealing with the requests, “The Commissioner accepts that when considered in the wider context, 24 requests on one topic in a few days could impose a burden in terms of time and resources, distracting the DWP from its main functions.

“The Commissioner accepts that the purpose of the requests may have gone beyond the point of simply obtaining the information requested and may now be intended to disrupt the main functions of the DWP.”

Surely, one of its main functions is the continued well-being of those claiming benefits. If people like Jacqueline Harris are dying because of DWP policy, it could be argued that the requests were reminders of its main function – not a distraction.

I have maintained throughout this process that there was no intention on my part to disrupt DWP functions. The only intention has been to see the mortality figures published. It seems neither the DWP nor the Information Commissioner are willing to allow that.

You have to wonder why, don’t you?

There are gaps in the argument which might provide future possibilities.

According to the decision notice, “The DWP argue that ‘the nature of the actual request is not the issue here. It is merely how these requests were instigated and orchestrated which led to them being treated as vexatious.”

In that case, why did the DWP not honour Samuel Miller’s original request for the information, which was turned down in June? If the nature of his request “is not the issue here”, then it should have been honoured and my own FOI request would never have been made. By its own intransigence, the DWP has wasted not only its own time but mine and that of 24 other people.

How many other requests were made, on the same subject, that the DWP could not associate with this blog?

Also, I was surprised to read the Information Commissioner’s statement: “However, the most significant factor is that the complainant runs an online 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.”

If that was the most significant factor in this ruling, then the decision is invalid. This blog was not set up to focus on the DWP’s admittedly despicable behaviour towards its clients; its focus is on British politics in general. Look at the articles published in the last week, covering topics ranging from immigration to the minimum wage, to the economy, and – yes – concerns about the DWP. If DWP ministers think the entire blog was set up to harass them, they’re getting ideas above their station.

It could also be argued that the quoted belief of the DWP, that “it is reasonable to view the requests as part of an obsessive campaign of harassment against it and its officers” is insupportable. If 24 people made FOI requests, but only three complained about the response, this is hardly obsessive. Were any of these people writing in on a regular basis, or were they corresponding only after they themselves had been contacted? I think we all know the answer to that.

Also, the Commissioner’s comment that “the disparaging remarks and language used in the blog cannot be overlooked and does demonstrate a level of harassment against the DWP” is insupportable. The language of the articles has been moderate, when one considers the subject matter. Regarding remarks made by other commenters, the DWP and the Information Commissioner should bear in mind that the comment column is a forum where people may express their opinions. If the DWP doesn’t like those opinions, it should modify its corporate behaviour.

It seems I have a further right of appeal, to the First-Tier Tribunal (Information Rights). I will consider this; observations from interested parties are encouraged.

120 thoughts on “Information Commissioner rules on the cover-up of DWP-related deaths

  1. Phil The Folk

    Hi Mike, very sorry to hear this news, in fact i think their response is diabolical and you should persue this matter further. Maybe even try to get the mainstream press on the case too? I wonder what Michael Meacher will make of it? I’ve recently emailed him to enquire when the Spartacus deligation will be seeing the new Minister.
    I guy on Facebook (Riche Farrar) shared a piece the other day, saying he too had no joy on this matter with the ICC, however, he has had positive phone calls with the EU Commisioners, who have suggested he appeals directly to them, despite a possible 4 year backlog currently. He was calling people to send him as much evidence as possible, so I suggested he contacted you, Black Triangle, Atos Miracles etc., as well. Not heard back yet. Has he contacted you directly??

      1. Deborah Harrington

        Hi, Mike.
        So you are ‘vexatious’ are you, you brilliant campaigner you! Don’t get down about it, you’ve got right under their skin, I think. It seems to me you need to make a big call out to get as many other people to submit a FOI request on this subject now. We can use your info as a template, but reword it in our own ‘voice’. I’ll have it done by the end of the week. Is anyone else out there game for it? Let’s turn 24 letters into 240, or 2,400. Let’s show them what ‘vexatious’ really means…in my opinion it should mean ‘really well and truly steamingly angry about people dying in poverty and ill health in the UK in 2013’. The shame of it is very vexing indeed!
        How dare they use the fact that people are collectively angry about this and speaking with a concerted voice as the evidence they need to refuse to deal with it on the basis that it is a collective etc and a concerted etc…. Such drivel! One voice would presumably have been replied to on the basis that it wasn’t considered sufficiently in the public interest.
        I’m also going to make an appointment with my MP on this and other issues. I’ll damn well demand that HE puts in a FOI request too!

      2. Mike Sivier

        Once bitten, twice shy. I’m not going to endorse the view that you put forward about everyone else submitting FoI requests, as the DWP monitors this site and will use it against anybody who does. Having said that, I can’t stop you either!
        Your second paragraph mirrors my thoughts about this. The way the DWP has responded to this real public concern is entirely unreasonable and those responsible must be called to account.

  2. Editor

    Surely by this logic every ballot paper would need to be uniquely laid out as more than one vote using the same format would be vexatious!

    1. jed goodright

      “Vexatious” and “scaremongering” and the Lobbying Bill and an Information Commissioner who nails his colours to the mast – he’s useless at dealing with unwanted phone calls too – how much are we paying him to absolve the unforgiveable?

  3. G

    Good luck … for as long as you are able and willing, keep going. It’s fighters like you who can also articulate and keep diaries of this atrocity that raise awareness … even if that is the sum total of what you achieve and never get those statistics- you will still have contributed to the ever growing rope that this government is preparing ffor itself by pathologically abusing the status that the voters assigned to them unwittingly. Who was to know they would turn into this. Whoever is heavily influencing this government at the moment with the line of thought to ‘eradicate the weaker’ obviously was so busy with their eyes on the financial bottom line – that they underestimated the power behind the tidal wave response ..and its heading right for them. You are part of that movement. Many people are behind you.

  4. beverley rawson

    my medical evidence [which is from my doctor]states im unfit for workyet a very rude n condesending “judge” at a tribunal with NO medical qualifications as said Im fit for work n now I av to claim jobseekers altho my doctor has given me a sicknote for 12 months,,???? I now feel like im the lowest form of life n so feel like ending my life,,

    1. keith in Suffolk

      I have been disabled over 40yrs and the last 5yrs I had a bladder tumor, kidney stones that took 3 operations, replacement knee and following year a replacement hip.
      I attended an ATOS assessment and despite talking for almost 2 hours and received a 2 A4 page description of my problems they found me for for work because I did not score enough points on their ridiculous system.

  5. HomerJS

    This is quite ridiculous, and you do have to suspect a conspiracy to hide this information. It is completely stupid for the information commissioner to talk about the burden on the DWP. This might be the case were you talking about 24 completely different requests, but where people are asking for the same information then it only has to be resourced once. And giving each person the info would be no less burdensome than telling each person why their request was refused, and they wouldn’t have to do that. They could just send one person the info and tell the others which person had received said info. You wouldn’t even have to write 24 separate letters anyhow. You just write one and then mail merge.

    Go for an appeal Mike. Point out the weaknesses in their answers and stress how important this info is to people. And a lot more people were awaiting the info than actually made requests.

    1. Mike Sivier

      I used the argument about it only having to be generated once in my appeal to the Information Commissioner. Deaf ears and blind eyes, apparently. Perhaps people who are being refused ESA should apply for jobs there?

      1. Jonathan Wilson

        I wonder if IDS has leaned on them in the same way he got his henchmen to lean on ministers to make sure the CS got the blame for UC and not himself… would not put it past him it to do such a thing to be honest and the craven IC bowed down to his request.

  6. Damien Willey

    Continuing to squirm their way out of this. I would certainly support the decision to take things further Mike, at the very least it keeps focus on this – they have something to hide, the only explanation for why they will not release those figures – it would be catastrophic for the coalition if they got out

  7. John Keen

    Since the information requested comes under the FOI act and is therefore a reasonable request in and of itself, then whether it is one operson or a thousand should not make a difference other than the obvious…. the more there are the more it is required.

    To uphold the DWP’s denial of the request under the premise that too many people from any specific group precludes them from the right to have the request complied with in itself raises further questions, one of which relates to bias.

    The commissioner as i see it should NOT have viewed the origin of the requests as a bias but whether the request was LEGAL, which as i can see IT IS.

    Given you consider the commissioners (or the commissioner themselves) hold the belief that any request whether by group or individual once rejected and subsequently requested again is deemed “harrassment” then ANY request by more than a single individual that is made more than once would have to be considered the same…

    And given that, would an appeal be viewed as bullying or threatening behaviour?

    personally i cannot find the answer for the above as it is too “vexatious”.

  8. Chris Pampling

    I think there is a lot to learn here. Firstly, that “viral” campaigning needs to develop a stealth cover: people need to word their requests themselves and not just cut/copy and paste from somewhere else. Secondly, we need to learn from IRL campaigners such as Campaign for Real Ale, whose campaigns range from online petitions to face to face work with MPs and officials. The personal touch matters. Thirdly, even if we saw things on your blog/an email from 38 Degrees/on a Facebook page, we do not mention it. I came to this conclusion after receiving a response from my MP (Mark Pawsey, Rugby and Kenilworth, Tory) to a 38 Degrees email I sent, informing me that 38 Degrees were a left-wing organisation and that he thought I should be aware of it. We need to develop a mindset of acting as individuals together, rather than acting as a group.

  9. billgarnett2012

    Mike

    What a crap decision. To equate volume of requests for information with vexatiousness cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged.

    That the issues raised by you and shared (we live in a democracy…although I appreciate this is increasingly under pressure)were of concern to others is quite natural…and to be frank the fact that they were requests for similar information..even the same…made the job of responding much easier.

    I don’t think this is a reasonable judgment…there must be some way of taking that further…I wonder if the Court of Human Rights would look at the issues this raises if you have no joy with the First-Tier Tribunal (Information Rights).??

    Do you have any contact with any solicitors who do a lot of benefit work…Michael Mandelstam is one…Luke Clements another…and there was a very active female solicitor whose name escapes me for a moment. Might be worth asking if they have any specific thoughts about challenging this.

    I appreciate the amount of energy such action must take…thanks for expending it on behalf of those who feel a just society is worth fighting for.

    regards, Bill

    ps just come back to me…Belinda Schwehr.

    1. Phil The Folk

      Absolutely right Bill..always think outside the box when faced with this sort of problem! It was The Human Rights Commisioners that Riche Farrar has been in contact with on the phone, not just EU Comissioners, as I wrote earlier.

  10. Darren

    Whether they receive one request or fifteen hundred, the ICO has not said, I take it, that the information should not be released, so the DWP has a duty under the law to answer at least one of those requests and to state on its website that it has provided the information and to whom. It would be in ints own interest to do so in order to stop future requests for the same information.

    Seems to me that the ICO allowed its focus to be diverted from the issue and onto the nature of this excellent blog.

  11. Daz

    Dwp are full of it .. Perhaps if dwp had responded to your request in first place none of this would have been needed

    I think you acted correctly and information commisioner still did not answer your intial question

  12. Tony

    The bit that stands out for me is (According to the decision notice, “The DWP argue that ‘the nature of the actual request is not the issue here. It is merely how these requests were instigated and orchestrated which led to them being treated as vexatious.”)

    It suggests that they would part with the information but are rather childishly with holding it because they believe it to be vexatious.

    I think we can all draw our own conclusions though, their silence is deafening. We should all now assume that deaths HAVE increased and we should talk as though this were proven fact. The only way they can refute it in law is to release the figures and PROVE otherwise…

  13. Keith Sutcliffe

    I did post a while back on twitter that there were probably 50,000 deaths now to see if anyone refuted the figures but nobody did. Perhaps we should say they are true, or an underestimate and see if they can produce numbers that are near the truth.

  14. David Horton

    I think what has happened is that you’ve caught them out and like IDS the other day they are shouting “I CAN’T HEAR YOU”.

    And yep,I too commend you on your energy and actions

  15. Phil

    Is their anybody that can advise on a judicial review on the information commissioners decision, surely, judicial reviews are to question issues like this?

  16. stilloaks

    Reblogged this on Still Oaks and commented:
    So very typical of what we have come to expect from the ConDems. Lie through their teeth, cover it up and blame the enquirers for being vexatious. Disgusting totalitarian fascists.

  17. Black Triangle (@blacktriangle1)

    Mike, This is just despicable. An establishment cover-up, whitewash and airbrush over the lives of all who have perished under this evil regime. This must not end here! Our struggle continues apace! Solidarity, my brother! You’re a hero.

  18. Lou

    But surely it is the question asked that matters rather than the number of people asking it? How can such a question possibly go unanswered simply because two dozen (out of a population of sixty million) asked it in concert? Will the DWP never be answerable for the misery, suffering, and death that it has caused?

  19. Jo

    If the same, or a similar question, is asked again by one single individual at some point in the future with the DWP have to answer? Is there any way we can winkle the relevant information out of these liars, charlatans, and rogues.

  20. Niki

    Surely they only need to do the research once and then copy and paste it to all 24 people asking? It’s not as if they have to do the research each time! So surely the weight of numbers is a fallacious argument!!

    Nice to know that the information commissioner is Independant…..

  21. Bill Scott

    Please appeal Mike. I am so angry with this decision which amounts to the Information Commissioner siding with the very people who wish to cover up information rather than with those who wish to use it in “the public interest”. It simply would not happen in Scotland where the Information Commissioner has a very different approach. All the Best, Bill Scott, Director of Policy, Inclusion Scotland

  22. Juli

    My God, Mike, but the DWP are quite beyond belief! “Harassment”! How long, I wonder, before they accuse you of terrorism..?
    I, like so many, really appreciate the service you provide. Thank you.

    1. Angela Kennedy (@AcademicAnge)

      This misrepresentation of legitimate activities through official channels as ‘vexatious’ and ‘harassment’ has been done to the ME community for years. In 2011 a whole smear campaign was waged in the media against them. This year Michael Hanlon made another such attack in the Sunday Times. The success of that smear campaign against ME sufferers and their supporters has likely allowed this latest abomination of due and just process to be made.

  23. Ian Duncan

    Appeal the decision if possible, this needs to be pushed as far as it can go. What are the options regarding making the information commissioner reconsider because this stinks of collusion? Maybe ask under the FoI act for all emails sent between the commissioner and the DWP regarding you and your request…? 🙂

    Keep it up.

      1. thelovelywibblywobblyoldlady

        it’s fairly straightforward for the most part and you can take a “Mackenzie friend” in with you to assist (and I do make a very good Mackenzie friend 😉
        So just let me know if you need any input from me. I can give you my personal e mail address if you like … in case the trolls come a trolling!

  24. Tim Nichols

    It is worth contacting the work and pensions select committee. They have Iain Duncan Smith before them early in December to answer questions on the misuse of statistics. It seems reasonable that this should also cover suppression of pertinent statistics where there is an interest in them being in the public domain.

  25. leica0000

    It’s odd, I have no involvement in ATOS assessment, don’t know anyone who’s going through it, only a lateral interest because I’m disabled.

    I think even if they hadn’t denied the request it would have taken a long time to compile the statistics, for whatever reason that could be.

    The only option is to hit the news sources, all the BBC programs like Today, PM, You and Yours, Panorama, etc have contact pages and they are read. The Mirror, Guardian, Independent etc are all likely to be interested. I don’t think a journalist asking could be ruled as vexatious. But I think I suspect it will take a long, long time before compile the stats even if they’re compelled to, in any event.

    1. Mike Sivier

      They compile these statistics as a matter of course. It will take them very little time indeed to put a reply together.
      Also, I am a journalist by trade.

  26. John

    Clearly this is information that the DWP doesn’t want to supply. I hope you will forward this information to Dame Anne Begg Chair of the Select Committee W&P.

  27. Pingback: Information Commissioner rules on the cover-up of DWP-related deaths | L8in

  28. beastrabban

    Reblogged this on Beastrabban’s Weblog and commented:
    Mike here reports on the Information Commissioner’s response to his complaint about his FOI request being turned down. Mike had asked for information on the number of people, who have died as a result of ATOS declaring them fit for work. The DWP refused, on the grounds that it was ‘vexatious’. The Information Commissioner has concurred with their decision. They consider that it was indeed vexatious, as Mike had urged others also to write in, making the same request. This has serious implications for anyone wishing to hold the government to account for any of their policies. The request for information on this issue was first turned down, as only one person made the request, and so it was judged to be not worth the civil servants’ time and effort to find the relevant information. Now they’ve refused on the spurious grounds that it’s ‘vexatious’, and is the request is framed by people ‘acting in concert’. The attitude is that of a petulant, bullying child, who knows the other person is in the right and it is they, who is acting badly. Nevertheless, they carry on, sticking their tongue out at the others, singing, ‘You can’t make me!’ This has serious implications for everyone wishing to question the government on their failed and bloody policies. Mike cites the case of Jacqueline Harris, a Bristol woman, who committed suicide after a two-minute interview by ATOS, as one of those, who has died as result of the government’s policies. I’ve blogged about her case. One of my commenters was so impressed by what I said, that he suggested that we launch a mass campaign to write to the government demanding answers to some of the questions I raised. I’m really touched that people out there thought I had said something worthwhile about Mrs Harris, something that could stop other needless deaths by a cruel and humiliating system. Now it seems there’s no point in writing at all, as the government will simply curl its lips and dismiss any request for information with a lofty sneer. Mike does, however, give a very good critique of the spurious quality and vacuity of the information Commissioners’ answers, and provides a few suggestions on how these can be overcome. Take heart, peep: this is just a setback. The war’s still going on. And like the Federation in the film Starship Trooopers – but without their violence and Fascism – we’ll win!

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  30. Mr No

    Just want to say that I support and applaud your efforts on this subject.

    Unfortunately I believe that nothing will change to any significant degree anytime soon. Like Chaplins great dictator speech, we are dealing with people with machine minds. Dealing with many psychopaths.

    I think in time things will change, but for people to start sitting up and taking notice many more deaths will probably have to occur. And as it becomes more visible, the link too tangible to ignore. Weight of numbers of people actually directly or indirectly affected by this issue.

    Many people just live their lives and only realise what’s going on when it bites them on the arse! It doesn’t make them bad people, just seemingly how it is. Or I’m getting too cynical. Or half serious?

    Ignorance is bliss until something blasts that ignorance away.

  31. Steve Cheney

    You should not feel responsible for this. The “vexatious” ruling is obviously not a valid justification for refusing to respond to ANY of the FOI requests – it would be reasonable not to respond to each one individually, but they cannot seriously expect anyone to accept this ruling if it makes the information you have requested impossible to obtain for anyone.

  32. keith sellick (@littlekeithy)

    What an appalling decision. It is a bit Catch 22 – if one person requests the information then it will be turned down and if several people appeal then it is deemed vexatious.

    If the DWP published the information in the first place then they wouldn’t receive requests from several other people.

    Best of luck with the appeal against the IC decision,

  33. T W B

    So somewhere in the Tory head office or DWP there is at least one person checking your blog.
    In which case I have some advice but cannot post it here.

    Can you email me?
    (ex govt stats person)

  34. Hazel-Roy Sheldon

    Hello document every death relatives need to have your help
    Crimes against humanity ,the information will get !!!! out , ask an investigating current affairs programme to help.
    Good luck Hazel.

    I am living in Australia and my family are over in UK.

  35. FOIreland

    As a former FOI Officer, I can see where the Commissioner is coming from. But I don’t know why he’s gone there.

    The Decision Notice does not seem to have been published yet, so perhaps there’s more to this than meets the eye. But from what I have read here, I take it the situation is as follows:

    A requester wrote to the DWP asking for an update of information which they had previously sent him about deaths of people undergoing ATOS assessments. They replied saying they didn’t have the information. You then wrote to them, requesting the same information, and encouraged others to do the same. The DWP responded by declaring the requests vexatious, and refused to answer. The Commissioner has backed them

    The ability to declare a request ‘vexatious’ is an important part of the FOI Act – there are people who will try to abuse the FOI process by asking for information without a real intention to do so, perhaps to gum up the works and harass authorities by making them to unnecessary work. It’s a valuable tool to defend them against spurious, or plain cranky, uses of the legislation.

    But it is also open to abuse by authorities. Clearly the DWP has chosen to see your approach as vexatious – and on the surface, that makes sense. You have asked a question which has already been answered, and encouraged others to do the same, apparently for no other reason than to put pressure on the Department. That doesn’t look good. Coupled with the emotive language of some of the comments on what the DWP describe as an ‘online blog’ [is there another kind?] it could easily be perceived as a campaign of harassment. The DWP people may quite genuinely believe that.

    Here is where the Information Commissioner ought to apply the rules with common sense. He is there to stand up for the rights of ordinary people, and this includes being able to make allowances for the fact that the average person doesn’t always understand the rules and sometimes gets worked up about things and uses emotive language about things that matter to them.

    The Commissioner provides detailed information about Vexatious requests:

    http://www.ico.org.uk/~/media/documents/library/Freedom_of_Information/Detailed_specialist_guides/dealing-with-vexatious-requests.pdf

    It’s actually quite helpful: “Most requesters will have some serious purpose behind their request, and it will be rare that a public authority will be able to produce evidence that their only motivation is to cause disruption or annoyance.”

    The Commissioner, however, seems to have completely accepted the DWP’s framing of the situation (again, the Decision Notice may tell a different story). It’s clear from even a cursory reading of your blog that you genuinely want this information disclosed. It’s also clear that, since all the other requests are for the exact same information, not only would answering them take very little extra work – really just cutting and pasting email addresses – it’s also clear that there is a real public interest in the information, and genuine concerns that vital information is being withheld. An authority with a proper commitment to transparency should take that as an opportunity to place its case before the public – even if the answer is ‘no’.

    What concerns me here is that, since the original complainer did not appeal, there was no opportunity to scrutinise the DWP’s response, and if your request is rejected, there won’t be here either. I cannot see how the ICO can possibly view that situation as in the public interest.

    I strongly encourage an appeal to the First Tier Tribunal. You would want to make clear that your request, while perhaps badly handled, was a genuine request for information of real public interest. I believe they would support you.

    Also, you should consider making a ‘meta-request’ for any records held by DWP about your request. Remember – there may be vexatious requests, but there’s no such thing, in law, as a vexatious requester.

    Good luck!

    1. Mike Sivier

      This is very good information, although you are inaccurate on a couple of points which may cast this in a different light.
      The original requester was Samuel Miller, and he was asking for an update of information that had already been published – that is, made available to everybody – by the DWP.
      He HAS appealed to the Information Commissioner, after going through the DWP review process, and is still awaiting a ruling.
      It seems clear that an appeal to the First Tier Tribunal is required.

      1. Rodney

        I am glad he is appealing – and the outcome will be interesting. The DWP appears to be arguing that, although they have the information you want, they do not ‘compile’ it. That may or may not be a valid point, depending on how much effort would be required to do so – it might be a question of running a report from a database (in which case they should do it) or it may be a process of collecting info from different sources, in which case they might be correct (though not doing so if they’ve done it before sounds like a deliberate decision, and probably political).

        There is always the possibility of getting a ‘data dump’ of the figures yourself and compiling your own statistics. That would depend on what information is held, and in what form, but it might be worth trying.

        In any case, there are worrying issues here about the way the ‘vexatious’ approach is being used here – even if the DWP are operating within the rules here (and that’s not clear) they are certainly operating against the spirit of the legislation. It should not be easy to declare a request as vexatious simply because it is ‘part of a campaign’ – that is clearly open to abuse and the Commissioner ought to be more assertive here. Common sense, and a real commitment to transparency, would lead to a different answer than you’ve got. It strikes me as a dangerous precedent, and for that reason alone an appeal to the FTT is worth it.

        The FOI process is a slow one and you may have to jump through quite a few hoops before getting what you’re entitled to. But it usually works in the end.

  36. Eric Jarvis

    It occurs to me that this a decision inconsistent with that in the case of the global warming deniers FOIA requests to the Met Office and The Hadley Centre. Which would imply that either decisions are being made on political grounds rather than legal, or the Information Commissioner is incompetent.

    1. jed goodright

      It seems eminently clear to me that the ICO is not acting with the public interest in mind and is rather opening up an argument for him to being swayed politically – there are serious questions about a Food Bank report which was produced c/o of a new parliamentary group in June this year only to disappear possiibly at IDS request – frank Field has written to whoever about it – does this vile man IDS have complete control of Westminster documentation – it looks like it from here??????

  37. wildthing666

    I wonder if the request was set out in a proper manor I.E. the question was asked in such a way as to say the deaths of people claiming ESA shortly after been found fit for work in the years 2008, 2009. 2010, 2011, 2012, surely the DWP know these figures and could have them to hand without spending £600 to provide the facts

    1. Mike Sivier

      It was only about 2012 – and yes, it was set out in a proper manner. If you check the blog entry on June 25 this year (if I recall correctly), you can see exactly what I sent.

  38. 慈栄夢津

    (with apologies to actual Japanese fables and folk tales… I found myself writing this as I thought the Information Commissioner’s applied use of logic was quite amusing. If I spent a bit more time on the fable then perhaps I’d change the threat from being the tsunami to being some policy of the Daimyo that causes his subjects pain and suffering.)

    Once upon a time, a Daimyo and his entourage were resting at one of the villages in his domain, on the eastern shore of Japan. The Lord was on a trip to pay homage to the Shogun at Edo.

    One day, as fishermen worked on repairing their nets, a shadow appeared on the horizon. The fishermen exclaimed in horror as the water at the shore’s edge ran back into the sea.

    The fishermen ran back to the village as fast as their legs could carry them: “A tsunami approaches. If you stay then the village will be flooded and you will all die!”

    The Daimyo saw this as a threat to his power and said, “There is no tsunami. If the warning was from but one man then I would say it was true. However, I have received warnings from twenty-four fishermen all at the same time. These claims are then surely vexatious and are without warrant.”

    “There is no tsunami. Return to your work.”

    The samurai said to himself, “These are just lazy men who have come to me. If I let everybody leave the village then I will let the word of these lazy men be above my word, and I will lose face.”

    While the roar of the approaching tsunami became plainly apparent over the songs of the nightingale in the forest, the Samurai repeated:

    “There is no tsunami. Return to your work.”

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  40. joe kane

    This is part of the ongoing attempts by the Whitehall medical mandarin establishment to publicly refuse to admit that the biopsychosocial medicine practised across a number of government departments (Dept of Health, Ministry of Defence, DWP) is nothing but iatrogenic quackology. It is practically impossible to report any harms caused by the BPS medical approach to the health of already sick and disabled patients, hence one of the reasons for its popularity by those in authority. Nowhere is any of our medical health services and organisations keeping tabs on the health outcome of patients treated by Atos medical professionals for instance. It’s just a black-hole of institutional medical abuse and neglect.

    For decades now ME campaigners have been questioning the basis of the medical science which now lies behind the DWP-Atos-ESA regime and why the harms and deaths caused by it are going unregistered and unrecorded by the British medical establishment whose job it is to protect patients from such unproven treatments and alleged “rehabilitation” cures.

    You might be interested to know that M.E. campaigners, activists, advocates and carers (M.E. sufferers being the guinea pigs for the ESA regime and the DWP-funded PACE study) have also been accused of harassment and have had to face a barrage of abuse and vilification at the hands of the Whitehall medical mandarin establishment, and their mouthpieces in the British press, for daring to continue to ask exactly the same questions as your good self Mike about the hrams caused by biopsychosocial medicine. An M.E. campaigner was even subjected recently to an awful First Tier Tribunal Appeal finding [1], defending the Information Commissioner refusing to release information on the DWP-funded PACE study, which has to be read to believed for the use of its language and tone.

    [1] Appellant.John Mitchell, First Tier Tribunal Information Rights, Decision 22 Aug 2103, EA/2013/0019.

  41. Nigel Wootton

    Freedom of Information Requests made to the DWP by members of the public revealed that during 2012 73 benefit claimants died every week while partaking the assessment process for ESA. Now, the hate-led DWP is refusing to give further statistics, and is slurring the request makers as “vexatious” (troublemakers). The lying DWP has also denied that it is covering up the horrendous Atos-related deaths. We the public, need to take legal action against the DWP.

    1. Mike Sivier

      Nigel – that’s during 2011, not 2012. Otherwise you’re more or less right about what’s going on. The adjectives you use indicate your own opinions (not that I disagree) and the choice of action is also your own (not that I disagree).

    2. Mike Sivier

      Why did I phrase my response like that? Because the ICO revealed that the DWP employees who monitor this site seem to think that all comments reflect my own opinion, rather than being those of the writers.

      Bizarre, isn’t it? Some people…

  42. thelovelywibblywobblyoldlady

    I have informed Micheal Meacher MP of this issue and I have stated that,
    I know that Ian Duncan Smith is due before the committee at the beginning of December (although it is possible that Esther McVey will attend in his place) and it is my understanding that Mr Smiths misrepresentation of DWP statistics will be one of the things discussed.

    I have asked him if he could place this issue before the committee.

    I have received a response from Mr Meachers caseworker, who has assured me that she will bring the matter to his attention.

  43. redjediknight

    Mike, I would appeal, I do believe its time to involve sympathetic parliamentarians e.g Michale Meacher and the wider media.

    It will be a hard road to victory, we owe it to ourselves and the families of the loved ones who have died.
    If we take a day at a time , focus and and work together we will win.

    1. Ian Duncan

      It’ll be almost impossible to get media interest, apart from the left(ish) papers, no media outlet is interested. They are all Conservative supporters, including the BBC, though they’ll deny it with their last breaths. To get mainstream/BBC interest someone will have to pull a spectacular publicity stunt, though who and what, I have no idea.

      Dunno how anyone can claim we have a free press with a straight face these days. Freed to act in corporate interests, maybe.

  44. moondancer

    ATOS are scum, lower than… my best friend who has supported me all my life, my sister has never claimed in her entire life, she has always worked been healthy and fit, paid her taxes, not married or drunk or smoked, but as a teacher she taught disabled children to swim and yoga, developed breast cancer. ATOS refused her benefit saying she was fit for work on the eve of her masectomy. the dwp overrulled that, atos overrulled the dwp. she finally got support but a year to the day of her initial diagnosis she found the cancer had spread to her organs and is now terminal. ATOS (insert appropriate swear word) rang her up on the day of her terminal diagnosis to see if she had died yet.
    PLEASE, PLEASE keep campaigning for those of us who cannot or dont have the strength health wise to do so, my darling girl will be dead soon but I have no doubt that ATOS will have contributed to her death by their disgusting underhand government sanctioned attempts at killing the sick and disabled. My freind wants so much to be well again and back at work in the job she loves so much, but the government just want her to die 🙁

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  47. Gen William Taggart

    This ruling only applies to those applications. Allow a few weeks to pass, then changing the wording slightly, make exactly the same request, but do so on your own and do not announce you have done so until you receive the reply.

    In this manner it cannot be considered as vexatious and would not give any grounds for the ICO to rule that it was.

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  49. Roy Davis

    Don’t give up now Mike Please Please Please for the sake of every disabled person that has died as a result of this EVIL government you must not give up now.

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  51. Carl Winnett

    They are running out of excuses and out of time, we know they are hiding the truth and they know we know. We will win because will will not stop until we do, the officials including IDS know that there is a very good chance that when the truth comes out they are going to end up in court and in the case of IDS the courts in the Hague. They are behaving like scared rats and don”t know which way to turn, patience is the key, we will have our day and we will see the rats drown in their own lies.

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  55. Billy Tail

    ory “Party” Top 5 donors by sector
    And you wonder why politicians no longer act on behalf of the people who entrust them with office:
    City
    Hedge Funds £1,384,070.58
    1. Michael S Farmer £316,600
    2. Stanley Fink £218,700
    3. Andrew E Law £101,000
    4. Christopher Rokos £100,850
    5. Paul M Ruddock £68,666

    Financiers £1,305,806.52
    1. David Rowland £1,160,936.52
    2.The Funding Corporation Group Ltd, IM House £130,000
    3. Vincos Ltd £50,000
    4. Selina Burdell £25,000
    5. Peter M Steward £15,000

    Fund and Asset Managers £1,158,000
    1. Gloucester Research Limited £166,600
    2. Shore Capital Group Plc £125,000
    3=. FIL Investment Management Ltd £100,000
    3=. Vivian Imerman £100,000
    5. Investors in Private Capital Ltd £80,400

    Banking £607,771.70
    1. Flowidea Ltd, Arbuthnot House £68,800
    2. Richard Q Hoare £55,000
    3=. Simon Robertson (Sir) £50,000
    3=. Jeremy Isaccs £50,000
    3=. David L Mayhew £50,000
    3=. Adam Fleming £50,000
    3=. James R Lupton £50,000

    Private Equity £565,400
    1. Alexander Knaster £100,000
    2. Edmund G Truell £69,000
    3. Jonathan P Moulton £53,600
    4=. Roger Nagioff £50,000
    4=. Graham Clempson £50,000
    4=. Jitesh Gadhia £50,000
    4=. Jeremy Isaacs £50,000

    Trading, Broking and Dealing £473,253
    1. IPGL Ltd, Park House £163,350
    2. Peter A Cruddas: £123,600
    3. CMC Markets UK Plc £100,000
    4. Neil Record: £35,050
    5. Nicholas Finegold: £22,600

    Financial Services £193,157.40
    1. Abduladem El Mayet £50,000
    2= Barnford Industries Limited, Romeo House £25,000
    2= Killik & Co LLP, 46 Grosvenor Street £25,000
    2= Julian L Smith £25,000
    5. Grahame N Elliott £13,200

    Insurance £189,400
    1=. Andrew Brannon £50,000
    1=. Henry Keswick £50,000
    3. Hampden Insurance Holdings, Hampden House £29,400
    4. Windsor Partners Ltd, 71 Fenchurch Street £25,000

    Sectors outside the City:

    Industry £913,410.60
    1. JCB Research, Lakeside Works £300,000
    2. Rainham Steel Co Ltd, Devonshire House £115,500
    3. Tompkins UK Ltd, Danesmore House £76,700
    4. William Cook Holdings Ltd, Parkway Avenue £65,647.10
    5. J & H Sales (International) Ltd, Finance House £64,400

    Automotive, Aviation and Transport £689,257.19
    1. Michael Bishop £335000
    2. International Motors Ltd £118,457
    3. David C Ord £68,600
    4. Dennis Keech £58,000
    5. Thomas R Scott £50,000

    Real Estate £617,665.55
    1. IM Properties plc £69,401.50
    2. Debbie S Fiorentino £64,329.25
    3. CC Property Company Ltd £63,500
    4. Realreed Ltd £53,137.60
    5. Thomas F Harrison £53,012.84

    Retail £551,100
    1. Nicholas D Jenkins £102,000
    2. David Whelan £100,000.
    3. Bestway Cash & Carry Ltd, 2 Abbey Road £61,000
    4. Simon Wolfson £53,600
    5=. Babyway International Limited, Babyway House £50,000
    5=. Catherine C Baxendale £50,000
    5=. Julian Richer £50,000

    Creative Media and Arts £271,166.77
    1. Universal Music Operations Ltd £80,000
    2. Christopher Ingram £50,000
    3. Julian Kitchener-Fellowes £40,000
    4. Charles Caminada £27,800
    5. Michael Batt £20,000

    Energy £252,600
    1. Ayman Asfari £79,200
    2. Ian R Taylor £65,600
    3. Jeremy B Asher £52,300
    4. Abdul-Majid Jafar £25,000
    5. Scottish Power UK Plc £14,000

    Construction £224,641.65
    1=. Wates Group Services Ltd £50,000
    1=. Leonard J Nike £50,000
    1=. Aggregate Industries UK Ltd £50,000
    4. Keltbray Ltd £24,500
    5. Robert M Kirkland £12,642.65

    Leisure £220,195
    1. Edward Wray £59,600
    2. Lord Dolar Popat £45,600
    3. The A & S Leisure Group Ltd £25,000
    4. Sandhya Popat £22,000
    5. Annabel’s (Berkeley Square) Ltd, £20,000

    Services £205,000
    1=. Richard D Harpin £50,000
    1=. John A Frieda £50,000
    3. Rajasundram Seinthan £45,000
    4=. Tiziana Cantoni £25,000
    4=. Mark J Page £25,000

    Technology £143,550
    1. Anthony N Bickford £50,000
    2. British Institute of Technology and E-Commerce Ltd £27,000
    3. Microsoft Ltd £18,750
    4. Jeremy J Oates £16,000
    5=. John Maxted £10000
    5=. Resilient Networks Plc £10000

    Lobbying and PR (including City lobbyists) £62,800
    1. Hanover Communications International Ltd £13,500
    2=. Euro RSCG Apex Communications Ltd, c/o Havas Shared Services Ltd £11,900
    2=. Bell Pottinger Communications Ltd £11,900
    4. EUK Consulting Ltd, 176 Franciscan Road £9,000
    5. Huntsworth Plc £8,500

    Pharmaceuticals £58,500
    1. Lord Ballyedmond, owner Norbrook Pharmaceuticals £50,000
    2. Norbrook Laboratories Ltd, Station Works £8,500

    Health £37,250
    1. Nadey Hakim £10,000
    2. Abdool R Ebrahimkhan £9,500
    3. Churchill Retirement (Group) Ltd £9,250
    4. HCA International Ltd £8,500

    Political £28,000
    1=. Chris Hudson £10,000
    1=. Edna Davies £10,000
    3. Graham Smith £5,000
    4. The Association of Conservative Clubs Ltd £3,000

    Agriculture £27,250
    1. Malcolm Scott £16,000
    2. Alexander Inglis and Son Ltd £8,500
    3. Sir Richard Sutton’s Settled Estates £2,750

    Education £26,000
    1. Lifetime Training Group Ltd, £26,000

    Please feel free to share this information.
    Admin 1

  56. john Keen

    How about a petition to the Work and Pensions committee or the House of Commons, or perhaps BOTH requesting that the DWP release the information.

    Individual letters from a “percieved” group maybe considered vexatious but say 100,000 signed names would mean the vexation was on the part of the PUBLIC and not the DWP.

    I consider the only part of the FOI request so far that can be described as vexatious is the persistant REFUSAL to comply with a LEGAL request for said freedom of information.
    Whether it be by one, a million or forty groups and organisations i would say that the commission is misusing the definition of the term vexatious… it can be deemed that you found a friends request for a coffee was vexatious…..if you don’t WANT to do something then obviously any request to do it would be….yep you get where i’m going….

    As for a call to “disrupt the DWP” don’t be daft, IDS has already got that duty…

    Thus i call BOVINE WASTE PRODUCTS.

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  61. Alan Dransfield

    Your next step should be to appeal the ICO vexatious decision .
    Please watch out for the Court of Appeal ruling on C3/2013/1855 which is the MOTHER of ALL vexatious case,ie Dransfield V ICO

    1. Mike Sivier

      Cheers Alan I will.
      I did appeal but lost; however the tribunal said they had a great deal of sympathy for me and if I had made an FoI request without the vexatious aspect, it should have been answered in full.
      So I made another FoI request. Apart from the acknowledgement email, I received nothing after the statutory 20 working days, so I have requested reconsideration. Then it goes to the ICO.

  62. Alan m dransfield

    Mike
    No doubt the DWP was based on the Dransfield Case Court Authority GIA/3037/2011.
    That case is up for a retrial(tbc)

    If and when the court of appeal declare the GIA case unsafe you and 300 other vexatious citizen can ALL appeal?!?

      1. Alan m dransfield

        It is imperative that the Dransfield case GIA/3037/2011 is smashed because if it is allowed to exist in the statute book,VEXATIOUS exemptions will become SOP for any PA wishing to COVER UP crimes.
        It is ironical that my PA , the Devon County County were NOT the main drivers behind the above GIA case, it was the ICO who appealed the FTT non- vexatious addition?!
        Records at the ICO will show an alarming STRIKEOUT rate by Judge NJ Warren and an alarming VEXATIOUS rate by the ICO and PA’s Nationwide.
        We will of course never know how many vexatious decisions have been handed down by rogue PA’s which have not been appealed to the ICO.
        There is overwhelming tangible evidence that the ICO are failing their Mission Statement.
        The £64K question is, WHO is the main driver behind all this Vexatious and Manifestly Unreasonable bull—-?
        In my view, it is the coalition AND the Labour Party because they have failed their duty of care in shadow government.
        I note with a wry smile the ICO have brought out further vexatious guidance only a couple of weeks after Lord Justice Briggs ruled in my favour of a retrial .
        Neither Judge Wikely or the ICO are qualified to change or amend the FOIA 2000 .
        The Evidence on the table at the moment will show that Judge Wikely, Judge Warren and the ICO are abusing the FOIA 2000 in a similar fashion to Jimmy Saville.
        God help the FOIA 2000 if the Court of Appeal upholds the Wikely vexatious decision??!!

Comments are closed.