Publication - FOI/EIR release

National Audit Office report in overpayments of Carer’s Allowance: FOI review

Published: 6 Aug 2019

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

Published:
6 Aug 2019
National Audit Office report in overpayments of Carer’s Allowance: FOI review
FOI reference: FOI/19/01333
Date received: 25 Jun 2019
Date responded: 5 Aug 2019
Information requested

Further to my letter of 25 June 2019 I have now completed my review of our failure to respond to your request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA). I apologise for the time this has taken which was as a result of your request relating to information provided by another government department, and due to the availability of relevant parties during peak leave.
In accordance with section 21(4) of FOISA, I have also reached a decision on your request.

Your request

You asked for: Under FOISA please supply all correspondence between the officials and officials in the Department for Work and Pensions relating to Overpayments of Carer's Allowance, i.e. those which are the subject of the National Audit Office report on Investigation into overpayments of Carer’s Allowance.

My request is not limited to those which relate to this report, rather it is broader issue of CA claimants having recieved overpayments that have arisen in recent years as a result of reduced compliance checks and subsequent detection as a result of the Verified Earnings and Pensions service.

Response

I can now provide our response to your original request.

I have concluded that twelve documents fell within the scope of your request. I enclose a copy of most of the information you have requested.
In addition, some of the information you have requested is publically available. An exemption under section 25(1) of FOISA applies to a sample letter attached to Document 5 as it is already accessible within appendix 2 of the National Audit Office report on its investigation into overpayments of Carers Allowance https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Investigation-into-overpayments-of-Carers-Allowance.pdf . This exemption is not subject to the ‘public interest test’, so we are not required to consider if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption.

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance we are unable to provide some of the information you have requested because exemptions under section 28(1) (relations within the United Kingdom), section 30(b)(ii) (free and frank exchange of views) and section 38(1)(b) (personal information) apply to that information. These are set out in the table below and the reasons why those exemptions apply are explained in the Annex to this letter.

Document

Exemption applied

Email exchange                 14 -18/09/2018

s30(b)(ii)

Email exchange                        24/09/2018

s30(b)(ii)

Email exchange                        25/09/2018

s30(b)(ii)

Email exchange                        28/09/2018

s30(b)(ii)

Email exchange                        21/12/2018

s38(1)(b), s28(1), s25(1)

Email exchange                  10-11/01/2019

s38(1)(b)

Email exchange                        17/01/2019

s38(1)(b)

Email attachment                      17/01/2019

s28(1)

Email exchange   20/12/2018-12/02/2019

38(1)(b)

Email exchange                  01-02/05/2019

38(1)(b)

Email exchange                        09/05/2019

Released in full

Email exchange                        09/05/2019

38(1)(b)


ANNEX

REASONS FOR NOT PROVIDING INFORMATION

Exemptions apply
An exemption under section 38(1)(b) of FOISA (personal information) applies to some of the information requested because it is personal data of a third party, ie the names and contact details of officials below Senior Civil Service level have been redacted, and disclosing it would contravene the data protection principles in Article 5(1) of the General Data Protection Regulation and in section 34(1) of the Data Protection Act 2018. This exemption is not subject to the ‘public interest test’, so we are not required to consider if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption.

Exemptions apply, subject to the public interest test

An exemption under section 28(1) of FOISA (relations within the UK) applies to some of the information requested. This exemption applies because disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially relations between the Scottish Government and the UK Government. It is essential for the effective administration of the UK as a whole that there should be regular, and often private, communications between the Scottish Government, the UK Government and the other devolved administrations. The release of these communications about Carer’s Allowance will mean that the UK Government is likely to be more reluctant to share such information with the Scottish Government in future, which would reduce both the frequency and openness of communications.

This exemption is subject to the ‘public interest test’. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption. We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosing information as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate. However, there is a greater public interest in maintaining good relations between the Scottish Government and the UK Government, and in protecting the free exchange of information between the administrations to ensure that we keep each other fully and regularly informed about matters of mutual interest, such as the delivery of Carer’s Allowance. There is no public interest in disclosing information when that will damage relationships and disrupt future communications.

An exemption under section 30(b)(ii) of FOISA (free and frank exchange of views) applies to some the information requested. This exemption applies because disclosure would, or would be likely to, inhibit substantially the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation. This exemption recognises the need for officials to have a private space within which to discuss and explore options before the Scottish Government reaches a settled public view. Disclosing the content of free and frank discussions on the formulation of an answer to Parliamentary questions will substantially inhibit such discussions in the future, particularly because these discussions relate to a sensitive issue such as debts of Carer’s Allowance administered by another organisation.

This exemption is subject to the ‘public interest test’. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption. We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosing information as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate. However, there is a greater public interest in allowing Ministers and officials a private space within which to explore and refine the Government’s position on Parliamentary questions, until the Government as a whole can adopt a decision that is sound and likely to be effective. This private thinking space is essential to enable all options to be properly considered, so that good decisions can be taken. Premature disclosure is likely to undermine the full and frank discussion of issues between officials, which in turn will undermine the quality of the decision making process, which would not be in the public interest.

 

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Contact

Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Email: ceu@gov.scot
Phone: 0300 244 4000

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