An internal audit has found staff assigned to respond to FOI requests at the council “do not always view them as a priority” and “are minded to avoid dealing with them within required timescales”.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request recently revealed that more than a quarter of FOIs sent to Reading Borough Council (RBC) were not responded to in full within the statutory 20-working-day deadline last year.

The council has published an internal audit report ahead of the Audit and Governance committee meeting tomorrow (Thursday, September 19).

The audit found significant weaknesses in the way the council responds to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

Resident Jason Collie, who regularly uses the act, said: “While I welcome that the carried out this audit it is really worrying the finding underlying a culture of lack of understanding of how important FOI is.

“To not be complying with the law on one in four cases is frankly disgraceful.”

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) first came into effect in 2005.

It is often used by campaigners and journalists, but anyone is allowed to request information.

You can request any sort of information from any public body, such as the council, police, or fire service.

Although there are some exemptions, public bodies are legally obliged to give you the requested information.

The review found limited assurance that the processes for administering and responding to FOIs is effective and fit for purpose.

Paul Harrington, RBC’s chief auditor, concluded that the council complies with the basic principles of the FOIA but its processes do not necessarily facilitate timely responses.

RBC received 1,451 freedom of information requests (FOIs) in 2018 and did not respond in full to 380, or 26 per cent, within 20 working days.

The report concluded that there is a need for better tracking and reminders to staff of approaching deadlines, closer monitoring of performance and proactive publication of information known to attract frequent requests.

A spokesman for the council said: “RBC fields around separate 30 Freedom of Information requests every week, replying to just under three quarters within the statutory time limit.

“Many are commercial requests from companies wanting to sell their products to the council, others are from the media and are sent to every local authority and some are from local residents.

“Requests can take a considerable amount of staff time and resource to research, but as a public body the council is fully committed to openness and everyone at the council works extremely hard to deal with the requests in a timely and accurate manner.

“That review has identified some weaknesses in systems and processes and a number of recommendations have been made as a result.

“These will now be implemented and will be regularly monitored by the council’s senior management team to ensure any issues are picked up at an early stage.”