FOI FRIDAY: Benefit claims, burial problems, maternity complaints and noisy neighbourhoods

Benefits: A new area for FOI requests?

Taken off the sick

We start this week in Liverpool, where the ECHO has taken a closer look at the impact of the crackdown on people claiming incapacity benefits. Under FOI, it was able to establish that 1,000 people in Merseyside who had their benefits taken away from them on the grounds they were fit too work had the decision overturned on appeal – suggesting 1,000 people too ill to work did lose benefits for a while. The appeal success rate is one in three, according to the information from the Department for Work and Pensions

Gagging orders

Here’s one I suspect will run and run, in both Suffolk and elsewhere in the country: Gagging orders at councils as staff leave. Suffolk County Council – them again 0 has issued 13 in 12 weeks, spending £400,000 on the compromise agreements in the process. I suspect Suffolk won’t be alone. The East Anglian Daily Times pulled up this story using FOI

Digging up a problem

An interesting bit of data FOI unearthed in the Lancashire Telegraph, which reports that an FOI request into how burial plots were available at graveyards in Burnley (2,000) would only be enough to last the area for 10 years, with 200 people opting to be buried every year.

Maternity complaints

Maybe it’s because I’m hopefully about to become a Dad, but asking for the number of complaints made to maternity departments seems quite a good way to enable would-be parents to assess how good a maternity unit is. The Evening Standard quotes data in relation to an article about a woman who died at a hospital where a lot of complaints had been made.

First class excuse

If MPs can’t travel First Class at the public’s expense, why should councillors? It’s a question Lancashire County Council struggled to answer when the Lancashire Evening Post used FOI to find out how much had been spent on first class rail tickets in recent years: £205,000 on 1,245 journeys. Tory leader Geoff Driver says it’s worth the extra expense because it means councillors can travel in a manner of “confidentiality, comfort and convenience”. An old FOI, but worth revisiting.

Overseas travel at the council

The Sunday Sun goes a little more global in its quest for information on travel costs at councils – working out that councils in the North spend £300,000 on overseas travel. The key to the success here was not only asking for cost of travel, but details of travel, as demonstrated by the intro:

HOW much does it cost to change a lightbulb? Well, it seems more than £1,000 for one North council.

That’s the amount dim bosses at the cash-strapped local authority forked out for an art expert to jet into the region twice – to help put up then take down a string of lights at a modern art show.

Noisy Brummies

Councils often collect data and break it down to ward level – after all, someone has to take the random groupings of populations seriously. The Birmingham Mail used FOI to ask about noisy neighbour complaints, and received a ward-by-ward breakdown.

Mileage rates

Sometimes, it’s easier to let an FOI story speak for itself, and that is the case with this clever one from the Yorkshire Post:

Cash-squeezed Yorkshire councils are paying their staff thousands of pounds in excessive car mileage rates, a Yorkshire Post investigation has revealed.

At a time when authorities are cutting services and axing jobs, many were paying employees 65p a mile if they were a casual user or 50.5p a mile, together with a £1,239 lump sum, for essential users during the last financial year. The Government’s recommended mileage rate is 40p.

Getting consultation information

Government – local and national – is fond of a good consultation, especially if the people being consulted agree with them. Consultations can be a massively useful source of information for journalists too, as the Oxford Student newspaper has demonstrated. It reports on responses from Oxford dons about government plans to charge more for Visas – saying it would lead to reduced applications from abroad.

Drugs busted

Drugs busts are in the paper all the time, but what do they add up to? The Sheffield Star used FOI to get the total figures for drugs seizures:

Figures obtained by The Star using the Freedom of Information Act show cannabis plants worth over £39m have been recovered, along with a stash of heroin worth £4.8m, cocaine worth £4.1m, crack cocaine worth £2.1m and a haul of amphetamine worth another £2.1m.

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