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MOT failure data: ICO backs BBC request

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Martin Rosenbaum | 08:14 UK time, Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Would you like to know which makes of car most often fail MOT tests?

Generic car engineUntil now, the government agency involved has insisted that this data should be kept secret on commercial grounds. But in a case brought by the BBC the information commissioner has ruled that it should be revealed.

This stems from an FOI request made last July by my colleague Nicola Beckford to the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA), the Department for Transport agency which supervises the MOT testing scheme.

She asked for a breakdown by manufacturer and model of car of the number of MOT passes and failures and the reasons for failing.

VOSA refused to release the information on the basis that doing so could damage the commercial interests of vehicle manufacturers. It insisted that publishing the data would be against the public interest.

After Nicola complained to the information commissioner's office, VOSA presented the ICO with the following arguments against disclosure:

"The release of information relating to specific make and model would be likely to be commercially damaging to vehicle manufacturers whose failure rates appear higher, and therefore less favourable, than other manufacturers...this information would be likely to be used by some manufacturers to gain a competitive advantage, for example by publicising that their failure rate is lower than another manufacturer's failure rate for a comparable vehicle model."

It added that MOT failure could be due to the owner not maintaining the vehicle properly rather than its manufacturing quality, and therefore:

"[P]ublication of the requested information risked misleading the public as it could lead to the misconception that one manufacturer produces a lower quality of vehicles than another manufacturer when failure rates are compared."

The commissioner has dismissed this case, arguing that VOSA had not provided any evidence from car manufacturers themselves that they felt their commercial interests would be harmed by releasing the data.

He therefore upheld the BBC's complaint and has instructed VOSA to supply the material. The text of the decision is not yet on the ICO website but should be there within a few days. It is not yet known whether VOSA will now comply or will appeal against the commissioner's ruling.

UPDATE, 14:41: VOSA has now told me:

"We are currently considering the ICO's comments but have not yet decided whether or not we will be appealing against the Decision Notice. We have until 31 December to decide whether or not to lodge an appeal."

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