June 24, 2021

Why are housing associations exempt from Freedom of Information Act?

FOIAWhy are housing associations exempt from Freedom of Information Act?

Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation has received inquiries concerning a disastrous investment by the Hanover housing association of £500,000 in Smartsource Water.

The supplier offered 8.3 per cent “guaranteed savings and price protection” to consumers, but it went bust in October last year.

Some Hanover residents are finding the association intransigent over service charge issues think the two are related. Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation is asking Hanover for more details about this hole in their accounts and why it chose to invest in such an outfit.

 

But the wider point – for which Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation thanks Val Wright for bringing this to our attention – is why are housing associations exempt from Freedom of Information Act?

Last month the information commissioner said this was ‘bizarre’, which was reported in Inside Housing:

Christopher Graham, speaking at the annual Chartered Institute of Housing conference in Manchester, said he is ‘an old fashioned believer in accountability for the public pound.’

He said: ‘Where there is contracting out the contracted provider should have obligations to assist with answering FOI requests.

‘Because it’s slightly bizarre to have some of our biggest housing authorities without the obligations that a local authority has in [their] management division.’

The government will consult shortly on changes to the Freedom of Information Act which is now 10 years old.

Justice minister Simon Hughes said in March that the government will publish a revised code of practice to ensure private companies carrying out public functions have FOI requirements in their contracts.

The Ministry of Justice confirmed this could apply to a housing association in the same way it would to any other contractor engaged by a public body.

The FOI requirement would only apply to information held by the contractor about the outsourced public service, and not to all information held by the company.

Mr Graham said: ‘We don’t want to impose obligations on authorities that can be a bit heavy handed. I won’t stand in the way of necessary modernisation. We have to wait and see. ‘

In the same conference session on data safety, Andrew Myatt from Tai Calon a 6,000-home Welsh landlord, talked about a serious data breach that they reported to their regulator and how easy it was to fail to meet data protection standards.

An ICO report in February found that housing associations were regularly sharing personal information with partners without formal information sharing agreements – itself a breach in the law.