Survey finds half of civil servants want charges imposed for Freedom of Information requests

Half of civil servants support introducing fees for Freedom of Information, according to the findings of a new survey. (Picture: Shutterstock)

The study, by Civil Service World/Dods Research, also found some senior civil servants believe journalists, but not members of the public, should pay.

The survey has been conducted at a time when the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information, set up by the Government in July, is considering the introduction of fees to the FoI Act and whether cabinet ministers should be allowed to veto the publication of sensitive material as they have done in the past. 

In response, the Society of Editors, with support from Press Gazette, has launched the Hands Off FoI campaign. A supporting petition, set up by Press Gazette, has so far been signed by just short of 1,500 individuals.

Asked "Would you support the introduction of charging for the release of information under FoI rules?", 50 per cent of 4,420 civil servants said yes, 37 per cent said no, 12 per cent they did not know and 1 per cent said they would prefer not to say.

Overall, Civil Service World/Dods Research surveyed 4,435 civil servants. Some 4,425 answered the question "Do you believe your department has adequate resources to properly deal with Freedom of Information requests?", with 42 per cent saying yes, 20 per cent saying no and 38 per cent saying they did not know.

Participants were also asked to leave comments in the questionnaire. One senior grade 7 civil servant in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “Too often the FoI act is used to support lazy journalism or inquisitive academics…

"I think that FoI requests by members of the public should remain free, but there should be a 'corporate' charge for journalists and other organisations.

“The money raised could be used to help fund specialist units in government to deal with FoI requests, thereby releasing the pressure on front-line officers."

A grade 7 Home Office policy official is quoted as saying: "We should be able to charge for requests from the media to do their work for them."

And a senior executive officer at the Department for Work and Pensions said: "You must let people have access to official information in the interests of transparency, but not tie up huge amounts of resources to answer 'fishing' expeditions trying to dig up dirt without any direction or possible frivolous requests."

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