Scottish housing associations to come under FoI

Scottish government approves putting associations under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act as public authorities.

 

Stack of files

Scottish housing associations will come under the Freedom of Information Act from November this year.

The order, approved by the Scottish government, puts pressure on the introduction of a similar measure ‘over the border”.

In Scotland, the order is cited as the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (Designation of Persons as Scottish Public Authorities) Order 2019 and comes into force on 11th November 2019.

The order effectively designates associations as Scottish public authorities under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

In the Commons last year, former shadow housing minister Andy Slaughter introduced a private members’ bill to put associations under FoI.

The Bill was backed by the Campaign for Freedom of Information and cited the Grenfell disaster as demonstrating a need for tenants to access fire safety information from their providers.

FoI was used by Grenfell Action Group in its attempts to secure information about fire safety from the Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation (KCTMO), which initially indicated it would comply, then changed tack to say it was not a public body and not subject to the act.

Introducing the Bill, Slaughter said: “Bodies in this position would always be holding information on behalf of the authority responsible for the contract and the relevant information would always be accessible, subject to exemptions.”

As proposed, the bill would also put contractors providing ‘public’ services under FoI and cover the likes of local safeguarding children boards, electoral registration officers, returning officers – and the housing ombudsman.

Government indicated an intention to oppose the Bill, saying there are already provisions within the existing act to extend the scope of FoIs.

As the FoI act currently stands, members of the public can only request information held by a limited range of public authorities and government departments.

Over £250bn – a third of all public spending – is channelled to private companies or charities for services contracted out by local councils, central government and other official agencies.

But critics say there have been significant changes to the way public services are procured over the 18 years since the FoI Act came into effect – with more public services than ever being provided through private companies.

At present, the Act contains a clause that allows the government to bring any contractor within its remit, or any other organisation providing a public service.

But this has happened only twice, with the then Association of Chief Police Officers (now known as the National Police Chiefs’ Council) and Network Rail becoming subject to FoI.

Currently, charges must be brought within six months of the act of destruction; this would be extended to three years.

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