Sussex Police told it must improve its response to Freedom of Information requests after 'a number of complaints'

Sussex Police has been issued with a practice recommendation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in relation to the handing of information Freedom of Information requests.

The practice recommendation outlines the steps that Sussex Police should take to conform with the FOI Code of Practice.

It was issued under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (Section 48), 'following a number of complaints' regarding the force’s handling of requests.

The Information Commissioner reached the view that the request handling practices 'do not conform' to the code, issued by the Cabinet Office in July 2018.

Sussex Police

"As a force, we fully accept the recommendations made and are working closely with the ICO to ensure the areas highlighted are rectified," a spokesperson for Sussex Police said.

"We are in the process of hiring additional employees within the Information Access Team and we have also moved to an automated process of tracking FOI requests which will assist in improving our service.

"Additionally, we are reviewing the supervision of this area and, working with the ICO, building a comprehensive action plan for improvement which will address all points raised in the practice recommendation."

The commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, noted in the practice recommendation that Sussex Police did not conform with the following sections of the code; advice and assistance – clarifying requests; time limits for responding to requests; internal reviews and communicating with requesters.

The document read: "The commissioner is aware that, since August 2019, she has received a disproportionately high number of section 50 freedom of information complaints about Sussex Police for the size of the force.

"A high proportion of these complaints have resulted in decision notices recording a breach of section 10 of FOIA for non-response to a request."

'In addition to the high number' of timeliness complaints, the commissioner has 'seen a pattern' of Sussex Police failing to complete

internal reviews, both when requested by the complainant and when instructed to do so by the commissioner on receipt of the associated complaint.

"Finally, the commissioner has been concerned with the limited detail contained in responses to requesters, and also in the quality of the responses she has received to her substantive investigation letters," the document added.

"The commissioner has been proactively engaging with Sussex Police since the summer of 2020, with a view to improving Freedom of Information practices and monitoring any persistent trends.

"Despite the support and advice provided by the commissioner, the situation has not

improved sufficiently.

"She has therefore decided to issue this practice recommendation to formalise her concerns and hold Sussex Police accountable for improving its freedom of information request handling practices and, in turn, increase public confidence and trust in its information rights practices."

The commissioner will monitor Sussex Police’s compliance and progress against these recommendations through her casework for a period of 'at

least six months'.