Tower Hamlets Watch

Tower Hamlets break the law in refusing to Answer FOI Request regarding Pinnacle Consultants | July 19, 2010


Tower Hamlets Council is now refusing to answer a recent “Freedom Of Information Request” regarding Tower Hamlets Homes employment of consultants, employed through Pinnacle psg and Barbara Brownlee’s involvement, who was previously employed by Pinnacle, and now stands as the Director of Housing for Tower Hamlets Homes.

The request, which contains numerous questions, was put in over a month ago and still has recieved no official response after repeated requests, the council now actually stands in direct contravention of the “Freedom Of Information Act 2000”, and are now effectively breaking the law.

Under the terms of the Act an organisation like the council has 20 working days to respond in full to the questions asked under the terms of the Act. They also have a duty under the terms of the Act to respond within the 20 working day time limit, if they intend to refuse the request or even if they want to seek an extension of time. This duty to respond within the 20 working day time limit with regard to its extension can be used to clarify the request or questions. There are also restrictions under the terms of the Act regarding cost, which can also be used to refuse a request. The “Information Commissioners Office” governs and explains the Act to us, they issue guidance for us in most aspects of understanding the Act, offering a great resource to researchers and the public alike. This guidance also tells that refusals on the grounds of cost or “Using the Fees Regulations” follows a specific formula, this tells us that;

“The Fees Regulations state that this cost limit is £600 for central government, legislative bodies and the armed forces (ie Part 1 of Schedule 1 of the FOIA) and £450 for all other public authorities.
A public authority must still confirm or deny whether it holds the information requested unless the cost of this alone would exceed the appropriate lim”

And then goes on to state that;

“Such costs are calculated at £25 per hour per person for all authorities regardless of the actual cost or rate of pay, which means that the limit will be exceeded if these activities exceed 24 hours for central government, legislative bodies and the armed forces, and 18 hours for all other authorities.”

On the Information Commissioners Office website, the government department which deals with enforcing the law regarding “Freedom Of Information”, they offer some easily understandable rules on how authorities should treat applications for information under the “Freedom Of Information Act”.

The Information Commissioners Office also offers guidance on the regulations regarding “Time Compliance”, or the authorities duty to “confirm or deny” they hold the information within 20 working days;

7. What if the public authority needs more time to consider exemptions?
“Any information which the public authority is required to release must be disclosed to the applicant within the 20 working day time limit. Where the authority is relying on one or more of the exemptions and is withholding information, it must issue a Refusal Notice (under section 17 of the Act) within the same timeframe, specifying the exemption and why it applies.
There is a provision in the Act, at section 10(3), which allows the 20 working day time limit to be extended to a ‘reasonable’ time, where the authority is required to apply the public interest test, because one of the ‘qualified’ exemptions applies. However, the authority must inform the applicant in its Refusal Notice if it needs more time to consider the public interest in disclosure and must give an estimate of the date by which it expects to make its decision. [FOI Act, s10(3)]” – Freedom Of Information: Awareness guidance 11 Time for compliance

The request in question is now over 27 working days late, and has also not answered repeated attempts now to even respond to the requesters pleas for acknowledgement. How the council can get away with blatanly disregarding the law in this way just goes to show that there is no oversight within the council itself. The Information office within the council which deals with Information requests is on the 6th floor at mulberry place within the Legal Services Department. So effectively they have no excuse in not understanding the law. Although to be fair if the behaviour of Isabella Freeman, the chief legal ‘scumbag’… “oops sorry”, officer, is anything to go by then no wonder this office seems to have a tendency for breaking the law.

As reported on this blog on June 16, Tower Hamlets Homes seems to be riddled with consultants, and the situation has got worse since the consulting group Pinnacles Director of Consulting Barbara Brownlee resigned from Pinnacle and became Tower Hamlets Homes Director of Housing. Members of Tower Hamlets Homes tell me that they feel Pinnacle staff are now taking over key positions, and that every Tower Hamlets Homes member of staff that leaves under pressure, feeling let down by the council, those positions then get taken over by consultants who then become fulltime employees. Tower Hamlets Homes at the moment seems to be in crisis, with members telling me that a strike may be upcoming with regards to the treatment of office staff, cut-backs and closure of housing offices, and the increased pressure of consultants like Pinnacle and their hench-woman Barbara Brownlee. They argue at the moment that rather than these consultants actually helping residents, the schemes that members have to abide by, make it extremely more difficult to respond and react to residents queries, complaints and calls for help. Residents argue that the new system of closing the local housing offices, has led to a culture of invisibility of staff, and hundreds of complaints are being slung at an already overworked and overburdened workforce, who do not deserve the abuse slung at them on a daily basis. All of this pressure is probably caused by the acts of newcomers like Pinnacle, who daily create mistrust and agitation amongst staff members. Members tell me that there are more and more senior positions, staff with years of history within the local authority feeling sidelined, neglected and abused by the behaviour of the new administration and its culture of confusion that they are now taking early retirement. These positions, members claim, are then in most cases taken up by consultants.

Back to the FOI in question, as you can see from the regulations set out in the Freedom Of Information Act 2000, and the ICO’s guidance on the regulations, Tower Hamlets Council are in fact now definitely breaking the law. They have refused to notify the requester of any, clarification, or to ask for a revision to bring the cost down, or to notify that there will be a public interest test on the request, or even just to confirm, deny, or refusal in any way within the 20 working days timeframe as laid out under the terms of the Act. Because of all this, they are now duty bound to respond to the requestors questions in full and case law backs this claim, and the Infomration Commissioner warns that “time delays are unacceptable”

The problem is, is that those mealy mouthed *?”Cs within the Council know that theres not much the Goverment will ever do to enforce the Law;

10. What happens if a public authority does not respond within the time limit?

Failure to respond within the time limit would be a breach of the Act.
The Information Commissioner has a general duty under s47 of the Act to promote good practice.

Should he become aware of a consistent failure to respond to requests within the time limit, he may issue an Enforcement Notice.”

Although the ICO provides an excellent resource for advice and guidance on the FOI and the Data Protection Act, I find it odd that its powers are limited to enforcement notices, and not automatic fines. Even when found guilty of multiple breaches authorities are just offered further guidance on how to respond to requests. I’m sure theres one minister out there trying to fight this, that the ICO should in fact have more power to issue judgments? but then again with the expenses scandals going ahead, their probably lobbying to restrict the ICO’s powers even further.

God i get off the mark sometimes. So basically Tower Hamlets is now in complete breach of the Freedom Of Information Act 2000, and theres basically nothing you can do about it, apart from phone a Goverment Department that will probably end up slapping the council on the wrist and then offer them further guidance. No wonder the idiots down at the council think they can get away with ignoring people….


4 Comments »

  1. The trick with FOI is NOT to ask lots of questions in one FOI request

    Instead submit multiple FOI requests each of which only asks one very specific question which might require very specific paperwork. Be patient. Space them out. Don’t submit them all together. Get different people to ask the questions that need asking. That way you should never fall foul of the limit on time/expense.

    Plus they have to answer all the questions asked!

    Comment by Used to be civil — July 21, 2010 @ 12:42 am

    • Hi “Used to be civil”

      I used to think that this was the way to go, but have found that waiting so long can dampen my enthusiasm. Also authorities can sniff out what they call a coordinated campaign sometimes and put a block on any questions about a particular subject for around 6 months.

      Comment by fatoompsh — July 21, 2010 @ 6:09 am

  2. […] recent FOI request regarding Pinnacles involvement with Tower Hamlets Homes (46 working days late, over twice the 20 […]

    Pingback by Why would Tower Hamlets Homes lie about Barbara Brownlee? « Tower Hamlets Watch — February 24, 2011 @ 2:06 pm

  3. REAL SCANDAL AT TOWERHAMLETS HOMES: I will copy a letter that I have send to Mr. Marriot.Dear Mr. Marriott:

    I have finally took your good advice but I will not get a Solicitor because they are only after your money. Instead I will write all over internet about how your insurance company has treated a person that is mentally ill. I am going to show them how Ms. Naomi manipulated with me and how she lied to me. I am talking about hiding the statement that my manager has made in refrence to the accident. I am also going to write how the tower hamlets homes inspectors do their job or should I say the lack of it. Evidently you do not know how Ms. Naomi has tricked me into not filing for injury and pain compensation. Evidently all you know is that I have signed an agreement. I will eventually show you in the Court of Law that a mentally ill person is not bound by such contracts. I will also prove that the negligent was 100% on the tower hamlets homes. Evidentally you do not know that as a result of the accident I have lost the job there.

    If my reports that I had made numerous of times, were adher to I would probably still be working. You did not want to do anything about removing the bikes, despite my complaints and my managers complaints.

    Did you know that because of the accident I was forced to go back to Poland? Did you know that?.
    Did you know that it is a criminal offence to lie about a statement that was made by my manager? Ms. Naomi told me that they were trying to get a hold of my manager numerous of times. My manager told me that he has made the accident report, took pictures of the accident scene and afterwards he has made a statement of his own. But somehow Ms. Naomi did not receive that statement. So she claims. But I have evidence contrary to what Ms. Naomi has said. I also have other proof, for example that the bike owners were never notified to remove the bikes. Therefore it was the responsibility of the inspectors to remove than or atleast give the notice to remove them. But the inspectors didn’t do a damn thing, as always.
    I also have found out that at this time I do not have to be in England to take the case to court. I can do that online. Technology is wonderful. Isn’t it. Starting tomorrow I will write to the media of the SCANDAL in the Insurance Company and the TowerHamlets Homes. And than finally I will take it to Court and I can guarantee you that I win.

    But I do thank you for your sympathy. You are very kind.

    You see you should of investigated as to how this case was settled but you only denied.

    Respectfully Submitted:

    Janusz Dobrowolski
    Odpowiedz
    Przekaż dalej

    Comment by Janusz Dobrowolski — March 30, 2011 @ 12:57 am


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