Lewisham Council appeared to say that no delay should be expected for Freedom of Information requests – when people have been waiting for months.

A cabinet member has since clarified that delays should be expected because of Covid-19.

It has also emerged that official expected response waiting times for complaints and enquiries have gone up in the wake of Covid-19, though some residents report getting no response at all.  

Ahead of Lewisham’s full council meeting on Wednesday (November 25), Bellingham Councillor Alan Hall asked how long people would have to wait to get a response to a complaint.  

“Complaints are a valuable resource for the council to improve and refine services, what are the expected timescales to respond to formal complaints now?” he said.  

Cllr Kevin Bonavia, cabinet member for democracy, refugees and accountability, said the corporate complaint enquiries timescales “have been revised temporarily because of Covid-19 with effect from November 9, 2020”. 

He provided a table explaining that the response time to a stage 1 complaint has been revised from 10 working days to 20, a stage 2 complaint from 20 working days to 25, and a stage 3 complaint from 30 working days to 35. 

General enquiries have gone from 10 working days to 20, the same as enquiries to MPs, the mayor, cabinet members, and the chief executive.  

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FOIs allow the public to ask for information held by public authorities. 

The table showed that the response time for FOI requests is 20 working days, as is normal, with no highlighted delay – the local democracy service has been waiting for one response to an FOI since June, and two others for two and half months.  

A report from the Campaign for Freedom of Information, released last year, placed Lewisham third from the bottom of London councils for responding to FOI requests on time (61 per cent).  

Cllr Bonavia told the local democracy service that before Covid-19 struck the council had raised this to 86 per cent. 

He said responding to FOI requests “is an important part of the council’s responsibilities”.  

“The Covid-19 pandemic has created a massive strain on local government and rightly our priority continues to be on supporting thousands of residents, including the most vulnerable in our community, through our front-line services and additional responsibilities with Test and Trace, public health response to outbreaks, coordinating volunteers and providing advice and support to Lewisham’s businesses. 

 “Before the pandemic, the council’s FOI response times had been improving considerably thanks to a new internal process with 86 per cent being answered on time.  

“But since March response times to requests are taking longer than usual as a result of the both the huge pressure on services across the council and an increase in requests.   

“Our corporate complaints team regularly deal with hundreds of requests and they are doing their very best to respond as quickly as possible,” he said.