TMO Freedom of Information Fiasco

lab-rats-02A representative of the Grenfell Action Group recently made, on our behalf, a request under the Freedom of information Act from the TMO. He was seeking assurances, as well as evidence, that the TMO had informed and instructed Rydon’s, the Grenfell Improvement Works contractors, of widespread asbestos contamination throughout Grenfell Tower, so that they, the contractors, could deal appropriately with the associated risks to human health.

On Tuesday, 11 Nov 2014 we received the following reply from Fola Kafidya (the latest in a long line of company secretaries/heads of governance at the TMO):

“Further to Section 39 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, your request for information of evidence that the issue of asbestos in Grenfell Tower is being dealt with by the contractor Rydons and provide evidence that the TMO have informed the building contractor of the presence of asbestos in our properties is exempt from of the Act.”

What Ms Kafidya reglected to say is that Section 39 of the Freedom of Information Act states simply that:

“Information is exempt information if the public authority holding it — is obliged by Environmental Information Regulations to make the information available to the public in accordance with the regulations, or would be so obliged but for any exemption contained in the regulations.”

She also neglected to inform us that under the Environmental Information Regulations we would be entitled to access the information we requested, particularly as the risk posed by the asbestos throughout Grenfell Tower makes this an urgent Health and Safety issue.  There is therefore a significant public interest in favour of disclosure of the requested information, and we do not believe there can be any genuine reason to apply any of the very few exemptions allowed under the legislation.

Furthermore, according to guidance published by the Office of the Information Commissioner, when requesting information one does not have to:

  • mention the Freedom of Information Act or Environmental Information Regulations;
  • know whether the information is covered by the Freedom of Information Act or the Environmental Information Regulations; or
  • disclose why one is seeking the information in question.

If Ms Kafidya had a shred of integrity, and was mindful of the TMO’s duty of care to the many residents over whom it wields so much power, she might just have informed us of these simple facts and advised us to reword our information request accordingly.

Better still she might have saved everyone, including herself, a deal of delay, frustration and additional needless effort by supplying the requested information immediately, with an advisory that we had mistakenly invoked the Freedom of Information Act rather than the Environmental Information Regulations. Had she chosen this course of action she might just have helped create a modicum of goodwill, where none currently exists, and improved, ever so slightly, the very poor relationship between the TMO and the residents of Lancaster West Estate.


WATCH THIS SPACE: In our initial request we asked Ms Kafidya for additional information under the FoI Act which she refused under another exemption. We will be posting a further blog very soon covering the details of this other fob-off.

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