Lord Falconer has announced changes to the Freedom of Information Act

FOI changes ‘could reduce scrutiny’

FOI changes ‘could reduce scrutiny’

The number of people who have their requests for information rejected on grounds of cost is likely to increase under new changes to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

Currently, access to government and public service information under the 2000 act, which came into force in January last year, is free unless costs exceed £600.

Constitutional affairs secretary Lord Falconer today said he would not introduce a flat-rate fee, but was “minded” to include reading time, consideration time and consultation time when calculating this cost.

The proposals were based on a report from the Frontier Economics group, which suggested the changes could reduce the number of freedom of information requests overall by 13 per cent, saving 60 per cent on costs.

Lord Falconer said: “The FOI Act has put citizens on a more equal footing with the institutions that serve them and brought government closer to the people.

“They can access information about their local community in the UK as never before – information about the performance of their local hospital, their local environment, their local schools.”

In June, the constitutional affairs select committee concluded there should be no changes to the FOI charging system, and opposition parties today criticised Lord Falconer’s proposed changes, warning they could allow ministers to restrict information.

Shadow constitutional affairs secretary Oliver Heald said: “I fear that the government may be attempting to close down public scrutiny by curtailing the public’s right to know with this more restrictive regime.

“The introduction of the Freedom of Information Act has clearly become too embarrassing for this disaster-prone Labour government.”

Liberal Democrat president Simon Hughes also said the changes would make the FoI Act “much less effective and should be opposed”.

He said: “The government’s proposed changes to the Freedom of Information rules will make it a lot easier to refuse politically embarrassing information requests on cost grounds.

“Such changes could greatly undermine the increased openness, accountability and trust in the work of public authorities which the Freedom of Information Act was meant to bring about.”