Government broke freedom of information laws over access to 10 Downing Street

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The government has broken freedom of information laws by refusing to release documents that could reveal why it has failed to ensure there is a wheelchair-accessible front entrance to 10 Downing Street.

The information commissioner has ruled that the Cabinet Office breached the Freedom of Information Act by failing to release reports to Disability News Service (DNS), including any documents that mention the two steps leading to the iconically-inaccessible front door.

DNS has been trying for more than a year to discover what discussions have taken place about removing the steps.

Although there is step-free access at the rear of 10 Downing Street, wheelchair-users wishing to use the front door must rely on a portable ramp.

The latest request for information came in July 2018, when DNS asked for “any reports or documents on the subject of disability access (including those relating to the steps leading to the front door) at No 10 Downing Street that have been prepared over the last two years”.

The Cabinet Office insisted that the only relevant recorded information was a 20-word extract from a draft memo that had already been released, which spoke of the “improved accessibility” from increasing the size of an internal lift.

But DNS argued that a Number 10 spokesperson had claimed that Downing Street had “undertaken a programme of works over recent years to make sure this historic building is accessible to all who visit”, while Historic England had said the Cabinet Office was “rolling out a programme of improvements to the grade I listed complex to proactively address disabled access”.

Historic England had also told DNS that an “accessibility audit is still being worked through and we will continue to advise as necessary”.

Despite these statements, the Cabinet Office had insisted to the information commissioner that it held no recorded information on disability access at Number 10, or reports or documents concerning discussions with Historic England.

Historic England has also since admitted that it does hold information about access at 10 Downing Street dating back five years but has argued that it cannot release it because of “national security” concerns.

The information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, has now concluded that the Cabinet Office “holds further information within the scope of the request” and had breached sections 1 and 10 of the Freedom of Information Act.

The Cabinet Office will now have to produce a legal response to DNS by 24 January, either producing the information or explaining why it has an exemption from doing so.

The Cabinet Office said it would now review its response to the DNS freedom of information request.

A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring Downing Street is accessible. 

“A custodian is constantly stationed at the front door so that access can be provided to the building at any time of day. 

“In addition, a new lift and more accessible toilets have been installed as part of work to improve facilities in this historic building.”

Picture: 10 Downing Street, after the building won an access award in November 2017… despite the steps to the front entrance

 

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