Southern Cross regulator's £84k FoI request claim

A freelance journalist investigating Southern Cross was told it would cost more than £84,000 to answer a Freedom of Information request detailing complaints made against the collapsed care home provider.

Kevin O’Sullivan submitted a Freedom of Information request to regulator Social Care & Social Work Improvement Scotland asking for details of individual complaints made against Southern Cross and its subsidiary Ashbourne.

The request became all the more urgent when all 80 landlords pulled out of the company last week, threatening the future of its 752 homes and 31,000 residents.

In an email to SCSWIS, O’Sullivan asked for ‘as much detail as possible about individual complaints made against the care home provider Southern Cross and its subsidiary Ashbourne”.

He also requested verbatim documents giving details of each complaint for all its care homes in Scotland, along with the resolution letters that were sent out in each case.

Aware the responses could contain personal information, O’Sullivan said he was happy to receive original transcript data in a redacted form – but when the response came back on Monday it left him ‘staggered”.

‘Work would take 329 days’

On Monday, SCSWIS information governance co-ordinator Caroline Rose told the freelance journalist the information could not be provided due to the ‘time involved in retrieving, collating and reviewing the complaint information for release into the public domain”.

She claimed dealing with the request would take 7,898 hours, or 329 days, at a cost of £84,720.40.

This was to provide details of 841 complaints – 243 of which were upheld and 437 partially upheld – contained in an estimated 329 files across 19 offices in Scotland.

‘Three staff would be involved in retrieving, collating and analysing the information prior to release,’claimed Rose.

‘Two of these staff require knowledge of the Data Protection Act 1998 in order to establish if any personal information requires to be redacted.’

O’Sullivan claimed he had never received “ridiculous” quotation for an FoI request.

But of more concern is that the information could prove critical in determining whether private care companies like Southern Cross are suitable providers of public health care in the UK.

O’Sullivan believes the information he requested should have been held by SCSWIS as a matter of course given the recent controversy surrounding Southern Cross.

‘If the government does not know the extent of qualitative data about individual complaints made against such a firm, how can it possibly determine whether it is a suitable partner from which to seek services?’he said.

In one swoop the organisation had ‘crushed all hope of a rigorous analysis of the kind of business Southern Cross has been running,’he added.

OSullivan is now formally complaining against the response, which he said was ‘laughable if the implications for transparency and accountability in government were not so serious”.

Costs breakdown

Here is a breakdown of the estimated costs quoted by SCSWIS:

  • Checking each office for information held in paper files would take 329 hours – one for each file – and cost £2,655.03 (after hiring an administrative assistant on £8.07).
  • Printing information from ICT system would cost a further £6,786.87 and take 841 hours.
  • Supplying inventory information for each file would take 1,682 hours and cost £13,573.74.
  • Checking and redacting information would need to be undertaken by an ‘information governance co-ordinator’on a rate of £12.06 an hour, and would take 3,364 hours – at a cost of £40,569.84.
  • Validating the information would take a further 1662 hours and would also have to be undertaken by a co-ordination officer – at a cost of £20,284.92.

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