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Is the Information Commissioner delaying a decision on my 'ESA deaths' request because it might influence the general election? If so, why delay that decision in the first place? [Image: BBC]

Is the Information Commissioner delaying a decision on my ‘ESA deaths’ request because it might influence the general election? If so, considering the appeal was made in October, why delay that decision so long in the first place? [Image: BBC]

Readers of this blog may recall that This Writer has been in dispute with the Department for Work and Pensions over its refusal to supply information on the number of people claiming Employment and Support Allowance who have died after making their claim.

The most recent Freedom of Information request was made in May 2014 – nearly a year ago – and was turned down after an illegally-long delay, on grounds that were not acceptable. An appeal was made to the Information Commissioner’s Office in October. That was six and a half months ago.

In March, Yr Obdt Srvt was contacted by the ICO and told a Decision Notice was being drafted and should be with me soon. That was seven weeks ago – nearly two months. Three weeks later, the message was that it was on its intended signatory’s desk, and that person would be reminded of it.

Today – in exasperation – I sent another message to the ICO. This time the question was whether there is a political angle to this delay.

Think about it: It seems most likely that the decision has gone in my favour – otherwise there would be no reason to delay it at all; it could be dispatched and the matter closed (until the inevitable appeal to the Information Tribunal).

But we are now in an election period. The release of potentially-sensitive information about the number of people who died while claiming a state benefit could influence the result of that election – especially if the number of deaths was unreasonably high.

Perhaps the ICO is delaying its decision in the belief that it would be better not to risk such influence. Unfortunately, this won’t wash – it is the ICO’s own tardiness that has created this situation. Would the decision have been delayed in November because of the possibility that it would influence an election? No – or at least it shouldn’t.

If this is information that should be in the public domain – as it seems likely the decision will say – then it should be released, whether it affects the election or not.

The clock is ticking. We’re all waiting.

What’s going on?

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