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Commissioner wants older people to be more aware of their rights to information

Scottish Information Commissioner's Annual Report 2007

Press release: 11 March 2008

The Scottish Information Commissioner wants older people to be more aware of their rights to access information from Scottish public authorities.  The Commissioner was speaking as he launched his fourth annual report yesterday, Monday 10 March 2008.

New figures released for the first time, show a breakdown of the 1,574 applications to the Commissioner by individual public authorities from 2005 until 2007 ? with central government accounting for the greatest amount (267), followed by Glasgow City Council (68), City of Edinburgh Council (60) and Strathclyde Police (50).

However recent research from the Commissioner's Office also shows that only 65 per cent of people over 65 are aware of Freedom of Information laws, compared to the national average of 74 per cent.  The Commissioner is concerned that awareness of individual rights amongst older people is not as high as it could be.

"FOI can be a powerful tool in helping to change an individual's circumstances.  But individuals cannot use their rights unless they are aware of them" says Kevin Dunion.

"Older people and their families have the right to ask for information about many things that affect them directly ? e.g. finding out about free personal care, grant assistance for pensioners, housing services, and standards in care homes, to name but a few.  They do not even have to explain why they want the information, and they can ask for it in alternative formats such as large print if they need to.

"Even if they think the information they are interested in is trivial, they have every right to ask for it.  And if they are in any doubt about making an information request, anyone can call my office to get some advice."

In 2007 alone, the Commissioner received 482 new applications and issued 249 decisions ? of which 105 were in favour of the authority, 62 in favour of the applicant and 82 were partially upheld.  A further 215 applications were closed without investigation and 135 were closed during investigation i.e. as a result of being withdrawn or settled.

Overall, the Commissioner's Annual Report demonstrates that FOI laws have been a resounding success in Scotland - people are proactively exercising their right to ask for information, and public authorities are adapting well to providing it.

Kevin Dunion was re-appointed as the Scottish Information Commissioner in February 2008 for a second and final term, until 2012.

Full report and key facts

Case studies

Notes to Editors 

The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act came into effect on 1 January 2005.  In the first three years of operation, the Commissioner received 1,574 applications ? 90 per cent of these had been dealt with by the end of 2007, leading to 594 decisions.

The Commissioner's annual awareness survey published in November 2007 tested awareness of FOISA by age group. 

Highlights of the 2007 Annual Report include:

  • In 2007 alone, the Commissioner's caseload was 781 cases (including 482 new applications) and he made 249 decisions.  215 applications were closed without investigation and 135 were withdrawn or settled.
  • Case closure rates have improved year on year ? by the end of 2007 the caseload had been reduced to 182 applications.
  • In 2007, the Commissioner greatly reduced the backlog of cases which had built up since 2005, when applications far exceeded expectation.  The target remains to close all excess cases by April 2008.
  • Public awareness of the FOI Act has increased to 74 per cent from 47 per cent in 2005.
  • 77 per cent of appeals came from ordinary members of the public, 7 per cent from elected representatives, 6 per cent from the media and 4 per cent from voluntary/campaigning organisations.
  • 89 per cent of authorities think they have become more open since FOISA, while 64 per cent of the public think they are now more open and accountable.
  • Nearly 1 in 10 respondents to the public opinion survey in 2007 had made a written request to a public authority.  86 per cent of these received all or some of the information they asked for.

Of the applications to the Commissioner during 2007, the breakdown by subject area was as follows:

  • administration and finance (17 per cent)
  • safety and crime (10 per cent)
  • commercial activities and contracts (9 per cent)
  • employment (9 per cent)
  • planning and property (6 per cent)
  • education and learning (5 per cent)
  • care services (4 per cent)
  • environment (3 per cent)
  • health (3 per cent)

Decision 020/2008 Mr Henery and Scottish Ministers

In October 2005, Robert Henery from Stepps, near Glasgow, submitted an information request to Scottish Ministers seeking access to information relating to the provision of free personal care for the elderly.

His request stemmed from concerns over a bill for food which his elderly father had received, which Mr Henery believed should not have been charged.  On 24 November 2005, Ministers disclosed some documents to Mr Henery but also withheld some information, claiming its release would inhibit substantially the free and frank provision of advice to Ministers.  Later, they also claimed other exemptions including those relating to confidentiality, and the formulation of Scottish Administration policy.

The information which Ministers withheld related to an exercise carried out to agree the distribution of funds to local authorities for the provision of free personal and nursing care.

The Commissioner found that some of the information was indeed correctly withheld, as it comprised legal advice between a client and its legal representatives.  FOISA allows legal advice to be withheld if the public interest in protecting its confidentiality outweighs that in seeing the advice in question ? as the Commissioner judged was the case here.

However, the Commissioner did not accept that release of much of the remaining information would inhibit advice to Ministers ? given that much of the information requested related to policy issues which had been determined by the time of the request.  The Commissioner concluded that while two of the documents requested, plus part of a third, had been correctly withheld, 13 documents should be release to Mr Henery.  Mr Henery is currently waiting to receive this information from Ministers.  He feels that these documents, which had been withheld from him, will contain "the most interesting information", and he thinks FOI is "doing a good job".

For further information, please contact Carolynne Coole or Joanne Krukowski at Consolidated Communications on 0131 240 6421/6424 or email Scotland@consol.co.uk.

 

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