1. ATOS, Capita, PIP… and some persistent FOI requests

    An article in the current Private Eye Magazine has drawn our attention to the use that disability campaigner John Slater is making of our Freedom of Information service WhatDoTheyKnow.com.

    In December 2016, Mr Slater asked the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to release the monthly “management information reports” received from contractors ATOS and Capita in relation to their work assessing eligibility for Personal Independence Payment benefits.

    Mr Slater has pursued his request for over a year, and wasn’t put off by an initial response which stated that the information requested wasn’t held, nor a subsequent response refusing to release the material citing the contractors’ “commercial interests”.

    In December 2017, a year after Mr Slater made his request, the Information Commissioner ordered the DWP to release the material, stating “The Commissioner has not been satisfied that disclosing the withheld information would be likely to damage the commercial standing of ATOS and Capita”. The Information Commissioner dismissed the DWP’s concerns that the information requested could be “misinterpreted in ways that could lead to reputational damage to both the Department and the PIP Providers as well as prejudice the efficient conduct of public affairs”.

    The Information Commissioner’s decision notice was highly critical of the way the DWP had handled the case, noting the use of “standard paragraphs” rather than a discussion of the public interest tailored to the material in question, and DWP failing to engage promptly with the Information Commissioner, thus causing further delay.

    The DWP have not yet complied with the Information Commissioner’s decision; they have appealed and a tribunal hearing is scheduled for April 2018.

    This request is far from the only one showing Mr Slater’s persistence in pursuing the release of information held by the Department for Work and Pensions.

    A request for Project Assessment Review Reports for the Universal Credit Programme that Mr Slater made in April 2016 was initially accepted and the department said they were considering it. Mr Slater chased up the lack of a response in June, and again in August and September, but when, six months after his original request, Mr Slater chased them again in October they deemed his persistence to be vexatious and rejected the request.

    That request has now been further rejected by the DWP, who say that the information “if released would, or would be likely to, prejudice the free and frank provision of advice or which would otherwise, or would be likely otherwise to, prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs.”

    Mr Slater has referred that decision to the Information Commissioner too.

    On the 5th of December 2017, Debbie Abrahams MP, the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, deployed the Parliamentary procedure of a motion for “an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty” to seek the release of the documents to the Work and Pensions Committee. MPs agreed the motion unanimously.

    The committee are currently in correspondence with the Government over redaction, and arrangements for access to the material.

    The committee chair, Frank Field MP, has suggested that:

    A couple of copies would be made. These copies will be kept securely and members would be invited to come to the Committee office to read them. No-one else, other than the committee members, will be invited to make this journey to our Committee office and members will not be able to make copies, or take notes, about the documents.

    – so despite the decision by the House of Commons the public still might not get to see the material via that route.

    Mr Slater has been in touch with us and told us he finds the service provided by WhatDoTheyKnow extremely helpful when submitting and managing FOI requests.

    He said that the ease of submitting requests and built in workflow that keeps track of time, reminding users that a response should have been issued, is invaluable. He also likes that a single platform exists where information obtained by its users is made available for everyone, as that embodies the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act.


    Image: John-Mark Kuznietsov (Unsplash)

  2. Consultation response: Revised Freedom of Information Code of Practice

    The Freedom of Information Code of Practice is a set of guidelines for the public authorities that are liable to respond to requests for information under the FOI Act. It advises these bodies on how to adhere to the law and what counts as best practice.

    The Cabinet Office recently ran a consultation on proposed revisions to the Code of Practice. Since this Code directly relates to the activities of the website WhatDoTheyKnow, and the services it provides for our users, we put in a response, which you can view here.

    The response was submitted under the joint names of WhatDoTheyKnow, our FOI codebase project Alaveteli, and mySociety itself, having been worked on by the WhatDoTheyKnow volunteer team, those working on the Alaveteli project, and mySociety’s researchers. Between them there is a substantial amount of experience and knowledge on FOI in the UK: much of our response is based on our experience in helping users to obtain information from public bodies.

    Indeed, our response commented on points which we felt particularly affect our users; among other issues, we responded on:

    • Timeliness of responses, including the introduction of time limits for internal review and public interest test extensions, and the importance of prompt responses to requests which inform current public debate.
    • The use of pseudonyms by those making requests: what counts as a pseudonym; whether this should be one of the indications that can be used to label a request as vexatious, and whether authorities might, at their own discretion, process a request even if pseudonymous.
    • Proactive publication, including the point that routine publishing of data may be more efficient and cheaper than responding to individual repeated requests. One suggestion is that every Freedom of Information request should prompt a consideration by the public body of whether the kind of information requested could practically be routinely published.
    • The application of fees to a request: the desirability of pointing out that most FOI requests do not incur a charge and that the requester will never be charged without notice. People can be deterred by the prospect of fees, and bodies’ responses often contain worrying notices about them in their emails and on Freedom of Information web-pages, when in reality they are rarely applied.
    • The means of communication: that requests made by email, unless the requester specifies otherwise, should be taken as a preference for a response by email; the ease of making FOI requests; and the ease of using data in the format provided in any response.

    We replied on several other points too, including the status of the Code of Practice itself. It was issued in 2004, and has not been updated since, and in fact it’s not a document that we use regularly when we’re advising users or corresponding with public bodies about the application of Freedom of Information law.

    The high quality guidance which we, and our users, do use on a day-to-day basis comes from the Information Commissioner, so we suggested the Government consider whether, and if so how, the Code of Practice could incorporate, or endorse that documentation.

    One other important point is that the Code of Practice constitutes guidance rather than law, so any welcome shifts in policy that it endorses should ideally be reflected in the law too.

    As a case in point, while the Freedom of Information Act has always covered information “held on behalf” of a public body, the proposed Code of Practice sought to make information held by contractors working for public bodies more accessible in practice: we welcome this but we do caution that issuing a new Code of Practice is not a substitute for amending the law, if that’s what’s required.

    If you are interested, do read our submitted document in full.

    You may also like to see responses from the Campaign for Freedom of Information and the Open Government Network: as we three organisations’ submissions share several common themes (without our having consulted one another), we hope that there’s a good chance of the Government taking them into account.


    Image: Nick Youngson (CC by-sa/3.0)

  3. WhatDoTheyKnow used for research on FOI refusals

    When you send a Freedom of Information request through WhatDoTheyKnow.com, every part of the exchange is published online. Those who have browsed the site will know that you can read the correspondence around each request from beginning to end, including the initial enquiry, auto-replies, any holding letters, messages seeking clarification, and finally, the response — or refusal.

    We built the site so that, when information was released, that information would be available for everyone. The result is the massive online archive, all searchable, that you can find on WhatDoTheyKnow today. That being the case, why do we bother publishing out all the rest of the correspondence? Why not simply publish the end result, that is, the actual information?

    Well, we believe there’s value even in what you might consider the ephemera of everything else, not least that it helps demystify the various steps of the FOI process.

    This week, an article by ‘FOIMan’ Paul Gibbons showed that the publication of this material can also help with research. He was able to look at 250 ‘refusal notices’ — that is, times when authorities had turned down requests for information — and pull out examples of best and worst practice.

    The result will benefit us all, from those requesting information to those who process the requests: for the former, it sets out what to expect from a refusal, and for the latter, it highlights how to ensure that you are sticking to the law as well as ensuring a good experience for the public.

    A refusal, as Gibbons points out, does not have to be a shutting of the gates in the face of the requester: it can help educate, point people towards a better means of obtaining the information they need, or even clarify for the FOI officer where withholding the information may in fact be inappropriate. We’re very glad to have seen our data being used in this way.


    Image: Gemma Evans (Unsplash)

  4. What we’ve learned thanks to WhatDoTheyKnow this month

    In the past month over 4,600 Freedom of Information requests made via our site WhatDoTheyKnow resulted in information being released. Volunteer Molly Williams has picked out a few highlights.

    The autopsy of Alexander Litvinenko

    The autopsy of the former Russian spy who was killed in November 2006 by radioactive polonium-210, which is believed to have been slipped into his cup of tea on Putin’s orders, has been described by a pathologist as “the most dangerous post-mortem examination ever undertaken in the western world”.

    An FOI request sent via WhatDoTheyKnow.com to Barts Health NHS Trust, whose care Litvinenko came under when he fell ill with the poisoning, revealed the detailed step-by-step procedure used to carry out his post-mortem safely. The examination determined how he was murdered.

    Read the full response here.

    Thousands of NHS and health bodies are listed on WhatDoTheyKnow, so if you have queries on the data they hold, it’s a great place to start.

    Grenfell displaced person plans

    An FOI request sent after the fire that killed 80 people and burned down a large block of flats in the Kensington and Chelsea area revealed the progress of plans to rehome those left homeless.

    Some key details revealed were that:

    • all regeneration plans have been put on hold in Kensington and Chelsea
    • emergency hotel accommodation in Kensington and Chelsea was offered to all made homeless by the fire
    • there were 179 offers of temporary accommodation made, of which 65 were accepted
    • everyone affected has a dedicated Housing Officer to help them find a new home
    • the council aim to rehome everyone who was made homeless by the fire by June 2018

    Read the full response to the request here.

    Crime statistics at Leeds Festival

    An FOI request sent via WhatDoTheyKnow revealed all the crimes reported from Leeds Festival over the past five years — including sexual offences, drugs, and fraud. It also showed that 2016, the latest year for which statistics were available, was the worst year for crime at the festival, with 200 offences reported. See the request and the full stats here.

    Letter from Chris Grayling ordering GTR to fund a £13.4 million improvement to Southern Rail

    How do you phrase a difficult letter? After it was quoted in national media, a message from Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, fining Govia Thameslink Railway for £13.4 million, is now available in full for everyone to read.

    In the letter Grayling stated that “passengers who depend on Southern have been badly let down” and went on to outline what the money will be spent on, including more on-board staff and £7m on “improvements that will directly benefit passengers”.

    Read the letter in full here.

    There are five railways companies listed on WhatDoTheyKnow. Not all of them are subject to FOI, but we list them anyway because we believe them to be subject to the less-known Environmental Information Regulations (EIR). And of course, as in the case mentioned above, you can always request information from public bodies which correspond with, or contract, organisations not covered by FOI.

    Supernatural crime reports in the West Midlands

    A requester asked for any reports on “ghosts, werewolves, witches, aliens, zombies and the like” to the West Midlands Police. Think this is a frivolous question? Well, in the past 12 months no fewer than 10 supernatural sightings have been filed. Following the response, the requester asked for further information on these mysterious sightings and is currently awaiting more detail.

    Read the full response here.

    Football in Worcester

    A request revealed, within a series of released email correspondence, plans to build a community sports stadium and relocate 3D artificial turf playing fields. It also showed the decision process taken, including consideration of the possible effects on the local area. Read what’s happening to football in Worcester here.

    If you want to know more about Sport England’s plans in your local community, you can send an information request to them via WhatDoTheyKnow.

    Seabird and raptor monitoring on the Isle of Rum

    An FOI request sent to Scottish Natural Heritage revealed details of their monitoring of seabirds and raptors including which species they track, their monitoring methods, and research aims.

    Read the details of the methods, findings and staff involved in the monitoring of these incredible birds on our site, here.

    Platelet donors and donations

    Information released by NHS Blood and Donations under FOI revealed how the number of platelet donors and donations has been gradually decreasing since 2010. When responding, the public body helpfully explained the trend in the statistics:

    “NHS Blood and Transplant has gradually reduced the amount of platelets it collects from platelet apheresis donations and increased the amount of platelets it collects by pooling whole blood donations from whole blood donors. This follows the 2013 recommendation made by the Department of Health’s Independent Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) to remove the requirement to provide 80% of platelets to hospitals by apheresis”.

    Read the full response here.

    FOI numbers and staff

    You can even send an FOI request about the handling of FOIs! One requester asked for how many requests to Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council were received in the past three years and the number of staff who deal with them.

    There were a total of 3,160 requests but no designated team dealing with them, which may simply suggest there is an FOI culture embedded throughout the organisation, where the role is combined with other jobs. Read the full response here, and if you, too have a question about FOI requests you might like to send an FOI request via WhatDoTheyKnow.com.


    Image: Plumber John (CC by-nc-nd/2.0)

  5. What We’ve Learned Thanks to WhatDoTheyKnow This Week

    In the past week more than 300 Freedom of Information requests made via WhatDoTheyKnow.com resulted in information being released. Volunteer Molly Williams has pulled out a few highlights:

    Flight paths over London

    One user of our service noticed an increased number of flights within the vicinity of South Norwood and asked the Civil Aviation Authority for a map of the flight paths over London and for information on recent changes.

    The requested maps were provided and the request-maker was advised to contact Heathrow and London City Airports to seek more information about any changes to their operations.

    Overdue library fines

    After being chased by the Information Commissioner, the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts revealed it took in £2,169.20 from payment of fines for overdue library books in 2015/16; the money is set to be re-invested into learning resources.

    The requestor has made a similar request to many universities.

    Dogs

    In Barnsley, 69 dogs were put down between April 2016 and April 2017, with two enforcement notices issued regarding dogs without microchips.

    James Jones, who made this request, has asked for similar information from a number of other councils in the area.

    Number of homeless youth under 25 in Sheffield

    Statistics on the number of people aged 16-25 found to be homeless by Sheffield City Council have been released. The council didn’t directly answer a request for the average waiting time for homeless youth to be housed but stated: “Our target is to rehouse any person to whom we have a full duty towards within 12 weeks, and this is rarely exceeded.”

    Age
    2015 2016 2017
    16 2 0 0
    17 4 1 0
    18 12 10 0
    19 10 8 3
    20 26 18 3
    21 22 11 3
    22 20 16 0
    23 19 17 6
    24 16 19 8
    25 13 18 9
    Totals 144 118 32
    Overall : 294

    Spending on agency teachers

    Spending on agency workers in every Nottinghamshire Primary School in 2016/17, and the number of pupils at each school was revealed, and showed Chilwell School, with 759 pupils, spent the most on agency supply staff at £229,074.49.

    Is a high level of spending on agency supply staff something to be concerned about? We at WhatDoTheyKnow don’t have the information and background knowledge to put these figures into context but they, and the fact they’re accessible under FOI, might be of interest to school governors, parents, councillors, supply staff and agencies.

    Police drones

    North Wales Police have two drones ready to be deployed for incidents such as searching for missing people, demonstrations, surveying crime scenes, festivals and sports events, image capture, armed support, and policing collision scenes.

    The force’s response reveals their drones have not yet been used operationally.

    Find out if your police force is using drones, and perhaps whether doing so has reduced their spending on helicopters, by looking to see if the information is already on WhatDoTheyKnow — and if not, request it yourself.

    Moreton railway crossings

    One request submitted to Network Rail Limited read:

    On multiple occasions when I visited Moreton level crossing in Dorset I noticed that the time taken from the barriers closing to the train passing is considerably less than other level crossings on the same line; what is the reasoning for such a short time?

    Their response was:

    In short the time difference between Moreton and other crossings is down to the fact that they are different types of crossing.

    The crossing at Moreton is what is termed an ‘automatic half barrier crossing’. Such crossings operate much more quickly than full barrier crossings since they rely on the train hitting a treadle (a device that detects that a train axle has passed a particular location) on the approach to the crossing to start the barriers’ descent. Since these are half rather than full barriers anyone or anything on the crossing at the time the barriers come down can still exit the crossing. Full barrier crossings do not work on the same automated system but instead require a signaller to monitor the crossing (either on site or via CCTV at a signal box). It should be noted that the risk associated with half barrier crossings is much greater than that associated with full barrier crossings and, in consequence, their use is limited to only quieter roads.

    Injuries to people at time of arrest

    Staffordshire Police released information by request showing that 26 allegations were made by people who stated they had been injured while in police custody or at the time of arrest. Of those incidents, two resulted in fractured limbs.

    Number of delayed FOI requests

    And finally, another FOI request via WhatDoTheyKnow revealed how many FOI responses to Somerset County Council had been delayed in the past three years.

    ‘We do not record the number of requests that have been delayed, but instead record the number of requests that have not been sent out within the 20 working day deadline.’

    Period Number of requests received Number of requests on time Percentage of requests on time Number of requests not sent out within 20 working day deadline
    01/04/2014 to 31/03/2015 1307 756 57.84% 551
    01/04/2015 to 31/03/2016 1192 692 58.05% 500
    01/04/2016 up to 31/03/2017 1219 772 63.33% 447

    The law requires Freedom of Information requests to be responded to promptly. If you’re not happy with the responsiveness of your local public bodies you could write to your elected representatives; mySociety’s service WriteToThem.com can help you.

    Inspired?

    We hope this post gives you a taste of the kind of information which can be obtained under Freedom of Information law. If you would like information like this from your own local public bodies then first check WhatDoTheyKnow and if it has not already been requested you can make a request yourself.

    We’re keen to make a round-up of interesting releases like this a regular feature. If you’ve spotted information released via WhatDoTheyKnow which you think we should note in our next post then do let us know either on Twitter where we’re @WhatDoTheyKnow or via our contact form.

  6. Transparency in policing – WhatDoTheyKnow volunteer talks to ACPO

    Police by Aaron van Dorn

    Many mySociety projects rely on a team of volunteers to keep them going. FixMyTransport, WhatDoTheyKnow and Pledgebank may look like very simple sites that run themselves, but the truth is that there’s a lot of human intervention going on behind the scenes, keeping the wheels oiled.

    Our volunteer teams deal with masses of site admin, they discuss policies and future development, and they give advice to our users. They may also go and talk about our projects in the wider community, and this is what WhatDoTheyKnow volunteer, Richard Taylor, did recently when he addressed the Association of Chief Police Officers at the “Transparency in UK Policing” event.

    Richard has written about his experience here; I am linking to it because, as well as giving a good introduction to WhatDoTheyKnow within a policing context, it also explains exactly what sort of work the WhatDoTheyKnow volunteers do routinely, and the kind of issues that are discussed within the team. It might just make you value our volunteers more, or it might pique your interest in becoming one yourself.

    If that latter applies, you can find out more about volunteering for WhatDoTheyKnow here, or about the ways you can help across all mySociety projects here. But either way, I encourage you to go and read Richard’s post.

    Photo by Aaron van Dorn (CC)

  7. WhatDoTheyKnow Team Urge Caution When Using Excel to Depersonalise Data

    WhatDoTheyKnow logomySociety’s Freedom of Information website WhatDoTheyKnow is used to make around 15 to 20% of FOI requests to central government departments and in total over 160,000 FOI requests have been made via the site.

    Occasionally, in a very small fraction of cases, public bodies accidentally release information in response to a FOI request which they intended to withhold. This has been happening for some time and there have been various ways in which public bodies have made errors. We have recently, though, come across a type of mistake public bodies have been making which we find particularly concerning as it has been leading to large accidental releases of personal information.

    What we believe happens is that when officers within public bodies attempt to prepare information for release using Microsoft Excel, they import personally identifiable information and an attempt is made to summarise it in anonymous form, often using pivot tables or charts.

    What those working in public bodies have been failing to appreciate is that while they may have hidden the original source data from their view, once they have produced a summary it is often still present in the Excel workbook and can easily be accessed. When pivot tables are used, a cached copy of the data will remain, even when the source data appears to have been deleted from the workbook.

    When we say the information can easily be accessed, we don’t mean by a computing genius but that it can be accessed by a regular user of Excel.

    We have seen a variety of public bodies, including councils, the police, and parts of the NHS, accidentally release personal information in this way. While the problem is clearly the responsibility of the public bodies, it does concern us because some of the material ends up on our website (it often ends up on public bodies’ own FOI disclosure logs too).

    We strive to run the WhatDoTheyKnow.com website in a responsible manner and promptly take down inappropriately released personal information from our website when our attention is drawn to it. There’s a button on every request thread for reporting it to the site’s administrators.

    As well as publishing this blog post in an effort to alert public bodies to the problem, and encourage them to tighten up their procedures, we’ve previously drawn attention to the issue of data in “hidden” tabs on Excel spreadsheets in our statement following an accidental release by Islington council; one of our volunteers has raised the issue at a training event for police FOI officers, and we’ve also been in direct contact with the Information Commissioner’s office both in relation to specific cases, and trying to help them understand the extent of the problem more generally.

    Advice

    Some of our suggestions:

    • Don’t release Excel pivot tables created from spreadsheets containing personal information, as the source data is likely to be still present in the Excel file.
    • Ensure those within an organisation who are responsible for anonymising data for release have the technical competence to fulfil their roles.
    • Check the file sizes. If a file is a lot bigger than it ought to be, it could be that there are thousands of rows of data still present in it that you don’t want to release.
    • Consider preparing information in a plain text format, eg. CSV, so you can review the contents of the file before release.
  8. Changes to public authorities today

    National Health Service changes in England

    Today (1st April 2013) marks a significant change in the way that the NHS in England is structured.  Strategic Health Authorities (SHA) & Primary Care Trusts (PCT) are abolished, and their responsibilities are being taken on by newly created Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG), the National Commissioning Board, Public Health England and local authorities.

    The split is roughly along these lines:

    • Clinical Commissioning Groups commission elective hospital care, urgent and emergency care, community healthcare and mental healthcare & learning disability services for the local areas they cover
    • The National Commissioning Board covers primary care contracting (GP Contracting, Dental, Pharmacy), specialised services, offender healthcare, secure mental health care and some armed forces healthcare
    • “Top-tier” and unitary Local Authorities take on responsibilities for these aspects of public health: sexual health services, drug and alcohol treatment, health checks, school nursing programmes, giving up smoking programmes and services to prevent childhood obesity
    • Public Health England is a national body which will work closely with local authorities’ public health teams, carrying out a range of activities to protect and improve the nation’s health, eg to co-ordinating work to combat infectious diseases such as flu or infections acquired in hospitals such as MRSA, or to carry out national publicity campaigns to prevent ill health

    This means quite a bit of change to the public authority listings on WhatDoTheyKnow:

    1) PCTs and SHAs are now marked as “defunct” to prevent new requests from being made (see below for more details).

    2) We’ve now listed all the new CCGs, but we’re missing email addresses for around 15% of them.  It’s clear that many CCGs are not quite ready to welcome FOI requests.  Even though they went live today, there are a fair number of websites still under construction (I’ve seen lots of “lorem ipsum” text today), with no contact details.  We aim to get these all up-to-date in the next few weeks as they get up to speed.

    3) The National Commissioning Board and Public Health England have been added to the site

    4) We’ll be adding local Health and Wellbeing Boards, Healthwatch organisations & Local Education & Training Boards soon.

    Police Service changes in Scotland

    Under the banner of reducing duplication and cost-saving (BBC article), police services in Scotland are being completely re-organised with 2 new central bodies replacing all the regional police forces and boards:

    Fire Service changes in Scotland

    Similar changes are taking place with Scotland’s fire services:

    Other joiners & leavers…

    The following is a round-up of other changes taking place today…

    Say hello to:

    And goodbye to:

    And although they’re officially changing, it’s pretty much business as usual for:

    Defunct public authorities

    We flag old public bodies that no longer exist as “defunct” to prevent new requests from being made.  In most circumstances FOI officers transfer across in-flight requests to the relevant replacement authority.  If you need to follow-up a request to a defunct public body (e.g. if there’s no further contact from an authority), the website will let you, however the “old” authority is no longer under any obligation to reply.  You may need to re-send your request to a new public authority which will restart the 20-day clock…

    Please help us!

    Given the scale of change, if you find any incorrect information for these public authority listings, please let us know!  Also please get in touch if you find an email address for any of those we’re still on the hunt for…

     

  9. WhatDoTheyKnow now 6% in Welsh

    Helô!

    Alaveteli (the software that runs WhatDoTheyKnow) is capable of being translated into any language, and we’ve finally switched on the ability to use the website in Welsh today. Many apologies for the long wait as this has been on our to-do list for well over 2 years…

    As you can see, we don’t yet have a complete Welsh translation, and it’s just a start:  we’ve done the help pages, and around 6% of the rest.  To take a look at what’s been done, just click the “Cymraeg” link at the top of any page.

    We’d love it if you could help us get to 100% by adding translations (or correcting any mistakes we’ve made!) at Transifex. You can read more about working with translations for Alaveteli, here and here, or just get in touch if you need a helping hand getting started or have any further questions.

    And finally, a massive thank you & diolch to the translators who have already helped us get this far!

  10. Most viewed requests – 19-25 November 2012

    One WhatDoTheyKnow statistic that we often quote, is that for each request written on the site, around 30 requests are read.  I’ve been recently taking a look at our web statistics, and thought you mind find it useful or interesting to see which are our most read requests.

    So, here are the top 10 for last week.

    There’s a definite theme, most readers are looking for information on the new Universal Jobmatch service which went live last week, without much mainstream media coverage, so people have a lot of questions which are being discussed on a number of DWP-watching blogs, Facebook & Twitter.

    1. Medicine A100 Admissions Statistics (Imperial College London)   – 629 unique views. Find out detailed statistics on who applied for Medicine at ICL – seemingly the most popular university out of these similar requests.
    2. Universal Jobmatch (DWP) – 702 views. This request asked for “leaflets or training info or guides given to jobcentre staff or customers to explain Universal Jobmatch”. A summary of training guides was provided, but no detail – one for future follow-up FOI requests?
    3. Universal Jobmatch and the Government Gateway (DWP) – 508 views. Detailed information was asked on the procedures and guidance issued to Jobcentre Plus staff relating to Jobmatch. The request is still in progress.
    4. Universal Jobmatch is Mandatory (DWP) – 446 views. The requester asked whether Universal Jobmatch will be mandatory for anyone on Jobseekers Allowance. The DWP refused the request, claiming Section 35 (formulation of government policy) and Section 42 (legal professional privilege). They said that the policy was still being developed, and (or?) that information was legally privileged. An internal review has been requested.
    5. Medicine A100 Statistics (Imperial College London) – 427 views. This asks for more recent 2011 & 2012 data, following on from #1. There’s a thestudentroom.co.uk forum poston this which is tracking all the medical schools’ statistics.
    6. Is signing up to Universal Jobmatch compulsory to claim JSA? (DWP) – 421 views. We don’t know as there’s no answer just yet.
    7. List of research used by the Secretary of State supporting the Academisation of state schools (Department for Education) – 406 views. Most traffic for this request came from this tweet from @alanmills405. This request is in still progress, so click its “Follow” button to find out the DfE’s response.
    8. Location of every post box that the Royal Mail Group operates (Royal Mail) – 324 views. This is one of our all-time top 3 most viewed requests, with around 22,000 visitors each year looking at it. Data from this request has been incorporated into a number of different apps and websites – follow the various links added to the request. I wonder why Royal Mail hasn’t done more to open up this data…
    9. Universal Jobmatch and Monster Worldwide emails (DWP) – 292 views. Apparently if you’re in a “junior” position, and not public facing, then your work emails are “personal data”, and exempt under FOI. Doesn’t sound right to me.
    10. New appointments opening time (UK Border Agency) – 284 views. Apparently, sometime after midnight seems to be the best time to try to bag your appointment (although the UKBA didn’t provide this information). Disappointment likely though – we get a lot of correspondence from people frustrated with the UK Border Agency’s slow pace at casework, poor communication and lack of detailed guidance on their website.

    If you’re interested in keeping up with any of these requests, especially if there’s no response yet, then click the “Follow” button at the top of each request page to be alerted when an update is received, either by email or RSS.