Having trouble with your Freedom of Information Act request?

There’s some advice on the FT letters page by Sebastian Nokes of Aldersgate Partners, a London consulting firm that has been advising public bodies on the FOI:

An information audit enables an organisation to know what information it holds and where to find it. It is hard to see how an authority could possibly comply with the FOI without an information audit. Changing the mindset or culture of a group of people is one of the hardest things to do. Our experience shows that the information audit also changes culture, because by doing an information audit senior management in particular starts to see what information it has and that information is to a large extent an asset like any other — too many assets, or assets that cannot be found when needed, mean excess cost, while too few assets mean poor performance and excess risk. We believe the single most effective action our public bodies could take now to improve compliance with the FOI is to complete their information audits.

We recommend that anyone who is not getting a proper reply to their FOI request should submit a further request to the authority asking for a copy of its information audit. If the authority does not have one, or if it is incomplete, the inquirer will be able to show that it has not prepared properly for the act. If it does have one, the inquirer will be able to see where the information sought is likely to be held.