Housing associations should be subject to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, the information commissioner has said.
In a report laid before parliament earlier this week, Elizabeth Denham cited the Grenfell Tower fire when saying the transparency gap in the case of housing associations is “emphatic and clear”.
Her report, Outsourcing Oversight?, laid out the commissioner’s views on reforming laws around access to information.
The central thrust of the report was that organisations “exercising functions of a public nature” should be made subject to FOI laws.
Ms Denham said that housing associations are the clearest example of such organisations, as they carry out public tendering processes to provide public services.
After the Grenfell Tower fire, the commissioner called on councils to publish the fire risk assessments for their homes “in full” and acknowledged that there was a “significant gap” when it came to housing associations.
Inside Housing has since used FOI laws to obtain and analyse fire risk assessments for 1,584 blocks but only 13 housing associations shared their fire risk assessments out of 94 that were asked.
In August last year, the information commissioner took the unprecedented step of ruling that a housing association, Poplar Harca, is a public authority for the purpose of the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR), a similar law to FOI but for information relating to the environment.
The commissioner decided that Poplar Harca’s power to apply to the council for land acquisition and the power to apply for various orders from the council and that it was therefore a public authority for the purposes of EIR.
This, however, does not apply to all housing associations, as the commissioner also ruled last year that Richmond Housing Partnership was not a public authority for the purposes of EIR.
Labour MP Andy Slaughter tabled a Private Members Bill in June last year to make housing associations subject to FOI, but the bill was talked out of the commons by Conservative backbenchers Philip Davies and Sir Christopher Chope.
In Scotland, the government has decided that housing associations will be covered by FOI laws after lobbying from Scottish tenants and the Scottish Information Commissioner.
This change, however, has been repeatedly delayed and is not expected to come into force in April this year as was originally planned.
Source: Inside Housing