Feedback (2018)

Request

  1. Copies of any complaints received by the House in 2017 relating to food and drink served in House of Commons catering outlets.
  2. Copies of any complaints received by the House in 2017 relating to maintenance and facilities in the House of Commons. 

 

Response

  1. Copies of any complaints received by the House in 2017 relating to food and drink served in House of Commons catering outlets
    This information is held by the House of Commons.
    However, owing to the repeated interest in catering feedback and to reduce the work taken to answer individual requests and resulting cost to the taxpayer, the House of Commons now proactively publishes all catering feedback received on the parliamentary web pages annually in October. Therefore, catering feedback between 1 August 2016 and 31 July 2017 is publicly available online.
    As this information is reasonably accessible to you otherwise than under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), your request for it is refused. In refusing your request the House is applying the exemption set out in section 21 (1) and (2) (a) of the FOIA. This is an absolute exemption and the public interest test does not apply.
    Catering feedback from 1 August 2017 to the date of your request is due to be published in October 2018. For this reason it is being withheld under section 22 (intended for future publication) of the FOIA. Section 22 is a qualified exemption, and accordingly we have to consider whether the public interest is in withholding the information or in disclosing it. The arguments for and against disclosure are detailed below.
    The general argument in favour of releasing information is that there is a public interest in being able to scrutinise aspects of the House of Commons where that information might be easy to access and will not prejudice the House. Against disclosure the argument is the public interest in permitting public authorities to publish information in a manner and form and at a time of their own choosing. It is a part of the effective conduct of public affairs that the general publication of information is a conveniently planned and managed activity within the reasonable control of public authorities. Where the decision has been made in principle to publish, there is a reasonable entitlement to make arrangements to do so.
  2. Copies of any complaints received by the House in 2017 relating to maintenance and facilities in the House of Commons.
    Please note that although the House of Commons and the House of Lords are separate public authorities under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), the maintenance of the parliamentary estate is a bicameral service and so some of our answer covers both Houses. 
    Records of complaints about Commons facilities are held by the House of Commons in three main ways, as described below.
    Complaints to the Helpdesk
    Day-to-day complaints are most commonly reported to the In-House Services helpdesk by phone or email, but these reports also include other contacts such as requests and enquiries.  For the period requested (1 January 2017 to 31 December 2017) 64,206 requests were logged on the helpdesk database.  Although it would not be possible to determine with certainty how many of these requests represented complaints without examining each record manually and making a judgement, we can carry out a keyword search on this database. 
    To be helpful, we have supplied you with as much relevant information as possible in a spreadsheet by using a search of the database under the key-words ‘complain’, ‘complaints’, and ‘complaint’ (CSV CSV 20 KB).  Complaints and requests may be logged under numerous key-words or may have been electronically archived, so we cannot guarantee the information on the spreadsheet is a full list of all complaints. 
    Please note that names and telephone numbers of individuals have been redacted from the spreadsheets.  This information is exempt by virtue of section 40 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the exemption for personal information), as disclosure of this information to the public generally, in the House’s view, would not be consistent with data protection principles in the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA).  This is an absolute exemption and the public interest test does not apply.
    We have also redacted details of office locations of staff and Members, as well as faults with access points from this spreadsheets.  The House considers that releasing the information would be likely to prejudice the prevention or detection of crime and the information is therefore exempt by virtue of s.31(1)(a) of the FOIA.  This is a qualified or non-absolute exemption and the public interest test applies.
    We have considered our obligation to assist the public in understanding how we conduct our business and the legitimate interest in the use of resources funded by the taxpayer including how money is spent on maintenance and the allocation of office space within the parliamentary estate.  These obligations and legitimate interests are outweighed by the risk of the prejudice that might arise in relation to the prevention of crime by disclosing specific access point faults or locations of offices of named individuals, which would assist anyone with malicious or criminal intent towards those individuals or offices in identifying exact locations to carry out such activities.  Disclosure of such this information would fail in our duty to assist those services providing us with law enforcement as it would hinder their work in preventing and detecting crime and apprehending offenders.  By providing information as to where individuals are most likely to be located on the estate we would be assisting those individuals in planning attacks against the estate and its occupants.
    Lastly, the information relating to office locations is being withheld under section 38 (1) (a) and (b) (health and safety) of the FOIA as to disclose this information would be likely to endanger the safety of individuals.  This is not an absolute exemption and requires a public test to be performed.
    We have considered our obligation to assist the public in understanding how we conduct our business by operating in an open and accountable manner and in understanding that complaints are resolved effectively.  These legitimate interests are outweighed by the risk of prejudice that might arise in relation to the health and safety of the individuals in the specific offices named.  By disclosing the office locations of these individuals we would make it easier for them to be located by anyone planning to cause harm to their health and safety.  In these circumstances it is our view that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.
    Complaints to staff of the House
    In addition, it is possible that numerous staff in the In-House Services Team may receive emails, letters or verbal complaints or notification of issues which were not sent directly to the In-House Services helpdesk.  In a high proportion of cases, these cases would then be logged on the system as previously described.  As a team of approximately 600 staff, it is not possible to identify which complaints and issues sent to staff have also been logged on the In-House Services helpdesk system, or which have been addressed in some other way.
    With the exception of the information provided by carrying out the keyword search as described above, for the purposes of the FOIA your request for information from the helpdesk database or staff emails is refused.  This is because, to fully comply with your request, we would have to manually locate and review each email and database entry to ascertain if it could be categorised as a ‘complaint’.  We estimate that the cost of complying with your request would exceed the appropriate limit as laid down by the FOIA which, for the House of Commons, is £600.  This represents the estimated cost of one person spending 3½ working days in determining whether the House holds the information, and locating, retrieving and extracting the information.  Under Section 12 of the Freedom of Information Act the House is not obliged to comply with this part of your request.
    If you would like us to carry out a more detailed search, you may wish to consider narrowing the scope of your request to a smaller date range, location or suggest a further specific keywords for which we could search our database or email records.  Please note that, depending on the scope of any further request, other exemptions or refusals under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 may apply. 
    The House feedback system
    The House of Commons also has a dedicated Compliments, Complaints and Comments service, managed by our Customer Team.  This team has taken the decision to publish the information they hold proactively: the first of these annual customer feedback reports is due to be published in April 2018 and covers all the feedback available through the House’s Compliments, Complaints and Comments system, including the specific areas mentioned in your request.
    Until this information is published we consider it to be exempt from disclosure under section 22 (1) of the FOI Act. S.22 exempts information held by a public authority with a view to its publication at some future date (whether determined or not). This is a qualified exemption and we have considered the arguments for and against disclosure in the public interest, as follows:
    We understand the public interest in opening up to scrutiny the performance of teams within the House of Commons Service in terms of public spending and value for money; we have concluded in this case, though, that the public interest is better served by the routine disclosure of this information and that value-for-money is best served by focusing the significant resources required to process the data in the manner required toward the achievement of this publication.