Bringing contractors under Freedom of Information

27 June 2018

INFORMATION ABOUT public services provided by contractors and fire risks at housing associations would be made subject the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act under a private member’s bill introduced by Andy Slaughter the Hammersmith MP. His Freedom of Information (Extension) Bill is to be due for second reading debate in the Commons this week.

At present, information held by contractors delivering public services is only available under FOI if the contract entitles the public authority concerned to that information from the contractor. If the contract is silent, the public has no right to it.

The bill, drafted by the Campaign for Freedom of Information, would bring all contractor-held information about the performance of the contract within the Act’s scope. It could be obtained by a request to the public authority, subject to the Act’s exemptions.

The Campaign cites the examples of:

  • a report on fire safety defects in the CT scanner room of hospital which the NHS trust used under a PFI contract. The contract did not give the trust the right to such information from the PFI body. When an FOI request was made for it to the trust it could not be obtained.[1]

  • the Ministry of Justice refused to provide information about the number of complaints made against court security staff and the number of those staff with criminal convictions. The staff were provided by G4S and the MOJ’s contract with it did not entitle the MOJ to such information.[2]

Andy Slaughter MP said: “A third of all public spending now goes on public services provided by private companies or charities, but too often information about them falls outside the reach of the FOI Act. It needs to keep pace with this enormous change in public service delivery.”

Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information said: “The public pays for and depends on these services, regardless of whether they are provided by an authority’s own staff or a contractor’s. The right to know should not depend on the logo on the jackets of the staff delivering them”.

The bill would also make housing associations subject to FOI. The problems caused by the current lack of any right of access to include:

  • 54 out of 61 housing associations refused to supply their fire risk assessments to Inside Housing magazine in 2017. [3]

  • a tenant was refused information about the cause of a fire on their premises. [4]

  • a housing association refused to say whether potentially toxic lead pipes were used in the property’s water supply. [5]

  • another housing association refused to reveal the electricity bill which led a tenant to be charged £1,200 to cover the cost of 6 communal light bulbs. [6]

Other bodies that would be brought under the FOI Act by the bill include electoral registration officers, returning officers and Local Safeguarding Children Boards.

The bill would give the Information Commissioner new powers to obtain information from contractors when investigating complaints and make them subject to the offence applying to public authorities which deliberately destroy requested information to prevent its disclosure. It would also close a loophole which blocks such prosecutions unless they are brought within 6 months of the offence occurring.


[1] First-tier Tribunal, decision EA/2016/0125, Sid Ryan & Information Commissioner & Wye Valley NHS Trust, 10 April 2017


[3] Inside Housing, 28 July 2017, ‘Fire safety issues uncovered in tower blocks’

[4] Request made in July 2009 to Paddington Churches Housing Association, subsequently part of Genesis Housing Group.

[5] Request in October 2012 to Genesis Housing Group

[6] Request in May 2013 to Affinity Sutton