Gotcha! Bureaucrats’ bid to stifle freedom of information is uncovered


It seems DWP responses to Freedom of Information requests are now known before the questions have even been considered.

Disability researcher Samuel Miller received an email from a senior case officer at the Information Commissioner’s Office today (Monday), referring to his long-standing request for information on Employment and Support Allowance/Incapacity Benefit claimant mortality – the number of people who died in 2012 while claiming these benefits.

It stated: “I have reviewed all the information available to me and note that the Commissioner has dealt with a similar complaint.

“You may be aware of the decision notice issued in [the case of my own FoI request, which is well-documented on this site]. That case has now been appealed to the Information Tribunal by the complainant.

“Under the circumstances I would strongly recommend that we do not proceed any further with your case until the Tribunal has reached a decision.

“I understand that this is a highly sensitive and important issue to you, but there is little to be gained by continuing the case as it stands. This is because DWP has not specifically applied an exemption when refusing your request, other than stating it does not intend to publish a further report and is monitoring requests etc. Therefore, I would have to direct DWP to issue a new refusal notice citing an appropriate exemption, and the process would in effect begin again. An internal review would be required before bringing your complaint to the Commissioner. I note that your original request pre-dates that in [my case] so it is unlikely that DWP could apply the same exemption to your request in hindsight.

“I appreciate that this seems like unnecessary ‘red tape’ however, we are bound by the legislation we oversee. The most that could be achieved at this stage would be to potentially find DWP in breach of section 1 and section 10 of the FOIA.”

For information, section 1 covers a general right of access to information, and may apply as Mr Miller’s request was not recognised as coming under the FoI Act, while section 10 refers to the timescale in which a public authority must respond to a request for information (20 days in the case of FoI requests) so it is likely that this section was breached by no less than six months.

The case officer continued: “In the event that the Tribunal disagrees with the Commissioner’s decision they can order DWP to disclose the information requested. If that proves to be the case then the information will be in the public domain and likely to be on the DWP website.

“Given the above, I recommend that this case is now closed. I would be grateful if you would confirm that you have no objection to this.”

The first thing to note about this is that it seems the Information Commissioner’s Office feels qualified to predict the result of a FoI request to the DWP.

Why go straight to rejection, when the request has not yet been considered in the context of the Freedom of Information Act? Should it not be examined in that light first, before proceeding to consideration of whether to provide the information or refuse it?

If the question has not been considered as a Freedom of Information request, a case officer from another organisation cannot – legally – tell a requester whether it will be refused or not.

This casts doubt upon the validity of the entire process.

Secondly, it seems both the Department for Work and Pensions and the Information Commissioner’s Office have chosen to link Mr Miller’s request with my own. This is inappropriate. My request was made after his was rejected, in response to that rejection, but is a separate request and each should be judged on its own merits.

For example, my request was rejected due to a claim that I had organised a campaign of harassment against the DWP. This is nonsense when applied to me, and irrelevant when applied to Samuel; nobody even knew about his request until he received his reply.

In my case, the Information Commissioner sided with the DWP for the even more ridiculous reason that I run a blog “in which the main focus is the DWP and their ‘cover-up’ on the number of IB and ESA claimants who have died in 2012”. That was “the most significant factor” in his opinion, but even the most disinterested glance through this site disproves it. Samuel Miller has a site, but it is concerned with documenting the problems facing disabled people and any suggestion that it is part of a plot to bring down any part of the government would be ludicrous.

Mr Miller is furious at this treatment of his entirely appropriate and legally-submitted request which, let’s not forget, pre-dates my own, as another part of the same matter. It isn’t.

As he put it in an email today: “No disrespect intended… but I take umbrage that the ICO is violating my rights by linking my case to your Tribunal appeal.  My case should be judged on its own merits, without the taint of a ‘vexatious’ ruling.

“It’s very upsetting that The Information Commissioner’s Office regards us as conjoined twins, joined at the hip like Chang and Eng Bunker (1811–1874).”

I sympathise completely.

I hope the ICO case officer will soon be receiving notice that Mr Miller does object to this treatment, that he wants his request considered on its own merits, and that he will consider any further action after a decision has been made in the proper manner.

But I feel constrained to go on record right now to say that, if he does, I will have had nothing to do with it.

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41 thoughts on “Gotcha! Bureaucrats’ bid to stifle freedom of information is uncovered

  1. Pingback: Gotcha! Bureaucrats' bid to stifle freedom of i...

  2. Nick

    As i have always stated mike in that Employment and Support Allowance/Incapacity Benefit claimant mortality -is for a mp to take up and keep a record of in that way he or she will be able to say who has died under what circumstances in the presence of Anne begg on her monthly committee meeting who is the Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee.

    That is the correct procedure so that all of the news is made public so that the public are kept up to date on regular basis

    the way it is at the present means that the public at large don’t know in what goes on and then go on to vote in a meaningless way at the general election who then after election go on to complain about this that and the other for the following 5 years claiming ignorance

    it’s the people that run the country not the government after all and misguided people do make as we have seen over many years make for a bad government

    one always follows the other and thats always the case wherever you are in the world in a democracy

    1. Mike Sivier

      The correct procedure would be for the DWP to monitor it as a matter of duty and public interest, and publish the data on a regular basis, but the DWP is reneging on that duty.

      1. Nick

        I’m not sure that is the correct procedure mike as the DWP are part of the government a mp however is the voice of the people only a mp would be able to maintain the integrity of such a protocol and is independent hence the bank of England becoming years ago independent so the government cant manipulate them

        the government control the DWP so there is no way that could be construed as being a voice of integrity on such an important matter of Employment and Support Allowance/Incapacity Benefit claimant mortality

        if i were a judge i would ever only listen to a independent person like a lifelong 40 years or more mp or indeed a lay person like myself to be entrusted with such sensitive materiel like Benefit claimant mortality i would be taking with a pinch of salt a persons account from the DWP DESPITE THEY ARE CIVIL SERVANTS

        just because your a civil servant does not mean you have the type of integrity needed for that specific role of transparency in such a demanding circumstance of dealing with the death of the sick and disabled hence the reason no one mp has said i will keep a record of the deaths and that my friend is the crux of the problem

        who could you believe to give an honest and accurate account of the deaths that stand at this time of many thousands yes it is a searching question but it still needs to answered if now now but when and yes the day will come when the time is right and prosecutions are taking out by the relatives

      2. Mike Sivier

        I’m partly sympathetic to your point of view because the DWP certainly hasn’t covered itself in glory lately.

        However, there are ways of ensuring that these figures aren’t fiddled – auditing by another organisation like the NAO, for example.

        When it comes to ‘correct procedure’, though, we’re not really talking about accuracy; we’re talking about who SHOULD be doing the job and getting it right. That’s the DWP; the department has done it before and it should be a regular thing.

  3. John Keen

    Seems to be the old supply and demand joke going on here…..

    “yeah…quite a lot of people have asked us if we could order that… but there doesn’t seem to be any demand”…..

  4. Thomas M

    There are reasons that some things *should* be kept secret-to protect life and limb, or to protect our country’s spies for example. None of these apply here.

    1. Mike Sivier

      I read an article about my own FoI request that basically said I should not have written any of the horrible things I’ve said about Iain Duncan Smith if I wanted my request to succeed, because of the invective involved. This is clearly nonsense on two counts: Firstly, it is irrelevant to the request itself, which was written in a perfectly reasonable, if not utterly bland, manner; and secondly, newspapers say much worse things about politicians all the time, in their opinion pieces, but are still allowed to make FoI requests. Differentiating between this blog and similar articles in the print media would be unsupportable.

      Also, IDS (or RTU as we call him here) is a nasty piece of work. Only yesterday (Monday) in Parliament, he called Chris Bryant a “pantomime dame” – a derogatory reference to the Rhondda MP’s sexuality. It is conduct unbecoming of an MP to stoop so low.

      1. Joseph Smith

        This cover up by civil servants paid by us is a national disgrace, the FOI act was I believe set to avoid this kind of dishonesty lies and deiceit by public officials in order that politicians would be forced to be more open and honest. It seems that offialdom has found a way to cheat the system and carry on lying to the public. These officials need exposing and sacking.
        Good luck Mike. We need to know the full extent of the DWP’s lies and cover-up of the people whose lives they’ve destroyed and we also must be able to bring IDS to justice. Civil servants and politicians need to be aware of public anger and be aware that we can unseat them.

      2. Nick

        Civil servants and politicians need to be aware of public anger and be aware that we can unseat them.

        You cant unseat Civil servants a new prime minister can only make a change of head of the civil service and that’s all

        civil servants today are nothing like the old days hence the problems we face today in getting things right across the board

        their invariably young and not doing the job that they set out to do before going to uni they in most cases are failures and that shines through in what they try to accomplish on a day today basis across the whole of government

      3. Nick

        mike i use them all the time not just for myself but others and i have only managed to secure the personal details of just one civil servant over the past 30 years or so

        she is my contact at the DWP for my care contact and has been marvellous over many years

        as for everyone else they’ve just been a script kiddy like all script kiddy’s /slaves worldwide reading from a script and completely useless but can run up big phone charges so be warned

      4. Mike Sivier

        Even with 100,000+ hits a month, this blog’s readers are only a tiny fraction of the UK population – and being ‘in tune’ with you won’t necessarily make you or them right; George Osborne reckons the population is ‘in tune’ with him on the benefit cap, for example.

      5. Nick

        i still think that the vast majority of people would wont to see my type of politics in which transparency and integrity ruled the day not only for this country but worldwide

        many countries like Egypt are crying out for it i love Egypt and know it well and could run it no problem religion aside thou as that’s very personal and difficult to find the right balance

        i don’t have a problem with any race or religion so i would much more likely be acceptable in the keeping of peace and in going forward in a manor that was inspiring

        the trouble with this country is that most people only have a very shallow outlook on life a very small window meaning they don’t know nothing if you ask them anything at random you always get the blank look i don’t know mate is often the answer wherever you are in the country

        Egypt is different they may not know but will make great strides to find out you come away with a sense of helpfulness where as in the uk you come away full of hopelessness

        a very subtle but big difference

      6. Nick

        well mike i don’t think much of our civil servants as to me they are not like the old days and today are found to be very much wonting in all areas of policy

      7. Tim Turner

        I think I wrote the article that you’re referring to, and as I hope I made clear, I think your request itself is worthwhile. However, I am not aware of any journalist who has referred to Iain Duncan Smith as a mass murderer, which you did. Feel free to correct me. That’s possibly why press FOI requests haven’t been turned down and yours was. Of course the DWP doesn’t want to give this information out. However, invective plays into their hands. They could not have refused your request as vexatious without the context on your blog, context that the Upper FOI Tribunal said nearly a year ago is relevant.

        Having said all that, I agree entirely that the ICO’s attempt to close down Mr Miller’s request is wholly inappropriate.

      8. Mike Sivier

        I did not refer to IDS as a mass murderer. I said anyone who creates a situation in which people for whom they have a duty of care are allowed to die, and refuses to do anything about it when the situation is pointed out to them, is open to such accusations. The aim is to encourage him to change his ways before such accusations are levelled at him and his colleagues by authorities with far more legal influence than myself.

        In any case, my expression of opinion is not a reason to refuse my FoI request. This is a country that allows freedom of speech. My comment was not libellous, as this government would have pounced on the opportunity to pursue me, and therefore may be considered fair comment. It is entirely separate from the FoI application and may not be considered – by any authority – in association with it. Those are the rules.

        The refusal is on grounds that I co-ordinated a concerted campaign of harassment against the DWP, but this is not accurate as all I did was suggest that other people who are concerned about claimant mortality could submit FoI requests of their own. Other case histories show that this is not nearly enough to trigger such a response.

        The ICO supported the decision by saying that my blog is exclusively devoted to what they call the DWP’s “cover-up” of these deaths. Just take a look at the variety of articles on that site and you will see that this is not supported by the evidence.

  5. john Keen

    God give me patience, (just hurry up will ya?, i’m about to lose it).

    “Aides to the chancellor insisted he had just been making a “Christmas joke” and did not mean to make a homophobic slur about the Labour MP”

    BOVINE WASTE PRODUCTS!!…. He MEANT to insult and berate, the ENTIRE cabinet use insults to deflect probing questions they find too uncomfortable to answer, Especially if it risks getting to close to a truthful one.

    “If you have to ask then you’re clearly stupid”.



    There is NO SUCH THING as a stupid question but there IS such a thing as a stupid answer.

    ANYONE who deflects a question with an insult clearly lacks confidence in their decisions or is so supremely confident that psychiatric assistance is required.

    It really must p*** these aides off to continually have to apologise for his tantrums..

    1. Nick

      IDS like most conservative mp’s don’t like gay people just as they don’t like foreign people and anyone else like the sick and disabled
      they never have that is their historic DNA

  6. Billy Tail

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    And you wonder why politicians no longer act on behalf of the people who entrust them with office:
    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
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    3. Jonathan P Moulton £53,600
    4=. Roger Nagioff £50,000
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    4=. Jitesh Gadhia £50,000
    4=. Jeremy Isaacs £50,000

    Trading, Broking and Dealing £473,253
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    2. Peter A Cruddas: £123,600
    3. CMC Markets UK Plc £100,000
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    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
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    5. J & H Sales (International) Ltd, Finance House £64,400

    Automotive, Aviation and Transport £689,257.19
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    2. Ian R Taylor £65,600
    3. Jeremy B Asher £52,300
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    1=. Leonard J Nike £50,000
    1=. Aggregate Industries UK Ltd £50,000
    4. Keltbray Ltd £24,500
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    Leisure £220,195
    1. Edward Wray £59,600
    2. Lord Dolar Popat £45,600
    3. The A & S Leisure Group Ltd £25,000
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    5. Annabel’s (Berkeley Square) Ltd, £20,000

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    Lobbying and PR (including City lobbyists) £62,800
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    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
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    2. Abdool R Ebrahimkhan £9,500
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    3. Graham Smith £5,000
    4. The Association of Conservative Clubs Ltd £3,000

    Agriculture £27,250
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  7. Tim Turner

    I’m sorry to labour the point, but in a much earlier comment, you told me that anything you said outside your FOI request cannot be associated with it and stated ‘Those are the rules”. Those are not the rules. The Upper Tier Tribunal is a *court*, and its decision in the Dransfield case is a legal precedent. The Dransfield case does not rule comments, correspondence and other things out – it rules them in. You have to overcome this problem, not ignore it.

    1. Mike Sivier

      You’re going to have to wait and see. If I have overcome that, then I’m hardly going to give away how I did it, months before the hearing, on a public forum where my opponents might be able to find it.

    2. thelovelywibblywobblyoldlady

      Tim, I couldn’t respond to your earlier comment so I’m doing it here.
      There is a Latin saying I’m rather fond of …. Mens rea, actus reus = guilty mind, guilty act.
      Iain Duncan Smith has the mens rea and he’s also done the actus reus, meaning he knew what he was doing and he did it knowingly without caring about the result; in his case he *thinks* the end justifies the means.

      If his department are so sure that his policies have not killed people then why don’t they release the information which would prove that?

  8. Pingback: Gotcha! Bureaucrats’ bid to stifle freedo...

  9. Rod N

    A group of us formed a charity to take over the running of 12 our local elderly peoples homes quite some years ago. The first thing I insisted on as a Director was that at each monthly directors meeting, was that we had the number of deaths in each home. It was to check that nothing was untoward in any of the homes and to spot any problems that might arise. Seems like good management to do so as well as caring. In a similar vain I was fighting for fairness in the Mining Industry about claims for pneumoconiosis. We wanted scans to be allowed to show the damage to lungs as xrays did not show it. The only information acceptable at the time was xRays and they hid behind this as a cover. A report was leaked at Whitehall showing the longer this continued, the more miners and ex miners would die and would then have no claim. It estimated the amount they would save in payouts by doing this. It was that leaked report that gave us the power to have scans allowed and claims could be supported by worthy evidence. Previously it was only at post mortem that the disease could be proved. This is what you are up against.
    Don’t give up and best of luck


    Tim Turner considers himself a bit of an expert on the Dransfield V ICO/Devon County case but doesn’t have the bottle to publish my comments on his website. He always runs home with the ball, wickets, and stumps and claims game over.
    There are a LOT of PA’s out there who have jumped on the Dransfield vexatious bandwaggon and my case has even been discussed in the House of Lords which contravenes their own Policy and Procedures.
    The ICO even refused 15 of my FOIA requests on the same day last week and no doubt Tool time Timmy (TTT) will hark on about 15 requests in one day is a lot of requests but it wasn’t over one day they were spread over 5/6 weeks.

    1. Mike Sivier

      I’ve cut some of this comment because its possible that you were talking about material that might be in your appeal, and it’s better to keep that to yourself for now if that is the case.

  11. Pingback: DWP refuses to disclose universal credit alternative payment figures | glynismillward189

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