Nearly a third of Kingston Council’s responses to freedom of information (FoI) requests in an eight month period were sent late.

By law public bodies have to respond to requests within 20 working days.

But more than 30 percent of responses between last October and this July for which the council supplied data – 427 out of 1,401 – came outside the legal limit.

Councils and other public bodies have to answer questions made under the FoI Act, unless there is a legal reason not to, and cannot ignore uncomfortable or awkward questions.

The transparency law brought in by Tony Blair came into force in 2005, giving ordinary people the chance to have their questions answered.

The information commissioner’s office (ICO), which acts as a final ombudsman for complaints about FoI responses, can take action if a public body “repeatedly or seriously [fails] to meet the requirements of the legislation”.

The ICO has issued two decision notices to the council this year. The first came in January when the council failed to respond to a request about internal emails.

In February the commissioner told the council its excuse for not revealing minutes of a meeting about the Connexions advice service was unacceptable.

The commissioner said it monitored Kingston Council in 2011 over concerns about slow responses. “Satisfactory improvements” were made, it said.

The Surrey Comet asked about requests made between July 2011 and July this year, but was told the council’s “customer relationship management system” had only recorded those logged since October 27 last year.

Conservative councillor Lynne Finnerty said: “It does seem a high percentage. But it depends how much work is involved.

“Personally I would like to see more money put into it. If we [Conservatives] took control of the council would we have the money? Who knows.”

Kingston and Surbiton MP Edward Davey said: “There is a suspicion that sometimes researchers, and, dare I say it, journalists, have used it as an easy way to do their research when they could be using other methods.

“Sometimes it can be frustrating and that can be difficult given tight budgets.”

A council spokesman said: “We do our best to respond to all requests fully, accurately and promptly. “We have recently taken on additional staff in our contact centre to help us manage the high volume of FOI requests coming in.”