Twenty-four high-earning civil servants who dodged a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for their salary details should be named, the Information Commissioner has told the Cabinet Office.

The Cabinet Office had refused to divulge the names of the individuals, all earning over £150,000 per annum, after they refused to give consent. The department had supplied the salary details and names of 322 other public sector workers in response to a 2009 FOI request from a member of the public.

Last October, it was revealed that Phil Pavitt, chief information officer at HM Revenue and Customers (HMRC), was paid £184,999.

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said in yesterday's adjudication about the Cabinet Office: “If you are earning over £150,000 working for a body that is funded by the public purse then there is now a legitimate expectation that your name and salary details will be disclosed,”.

“Being open and transparent is an integral part of being accountable to the taxpayer and, like it or not, this level of disclosure goes with the territory,” he said.

The Cabinet Office had justified its decision to ask the affected individuals for consent on the grounds that not to do so would have breached the Data Protection Act.

The Commisioner gave this line of reasoning short shrift. “It is useful to balance the consequences of any disclosure and the reasonable expectations of the data subject with general principles of accountability and transparency,” he said. “There is a strong legitimate public interest in the public knowing how its money is spent, how public sector salaries compare with those in other areas, and how money is distributed between different levels of staff.”

The Cabinet Office has 35 days to comply with the disclosure request or lodge an appeal.