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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 3 to 7 October 2016

Persistent correspondents can sometimes be hard to manage - but authorities should always be aware of FOI rights...

 

Learning points:

  • Authorities should always be ready to identify requests - even in difficult circumstances 
    Decision 206/2016 involves a case where the authority did not respond to a request because it had blocked emails from the requester's email account. It had advised the requester that it was taking this action because of the number of emails the requester was sending, and had asked that they make any information requests by post.

    We found that the emailed request and request for review were, technically, received by the authority (see the decision notice for more explanation). After discussion, an alternative approach was found to the requester's email correspondence, which should allow emails containing information requests to be received, while blocking other emails. This is a good example of an authority considering practical solutions to allow requests from a challenging correspondent to be identified and considered - something the Commissioner welcomes.

 

  • Public authorities may not always hold the information you expect 
    Often a requester will have good reason to expect that the information they need should be held by an authority. However, there may be equally good reasons why this is not the case (Decision 204/2016 is such a case). Only information which is actually held by an authority is covered by the FOI Act, and we can't consider whether an authority should hold information as part of our investigation.

    It is always good practice for an authority to explain to a requester why, despite their expectations, the information isn't held. (Sometimes, however, no amount of explanation will be enough. Decision 203/2016 looks at a case in which the requester had firm, fixed ideas about the information covered by his request. Despite detailed explanation from the authority, he did not accept that information it had published was what he'd asked for.) 
     
     

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 203/2016 Allan Nugent and Glasgow City Council 
    Mr Nugent asked for the 2015 taxi tariff calculations and report. The Council interpreted this as a request for the 2015/16 tariff review report, which was due to be published within the next 12 weeks. It decided to withhold the information.

    Mr Nugent didn't agree that this was the information he'd asked for, even after the information was published. However, after investigation, we accepted that this was the information covered by his request. We found that when he asked for it, the Council had already set a date for publication and was therefore entitled to withhold the information under the FOI Act's "future publication" exemption.

 

  • Decision 204/2016 Laura Twaddell and South Ayrshire Council
    Ms Twaddell asked for information about properties or assets in Prestwick listed in a Common Good review in 2009. The Council told her that it did not have the detailed information she wanted. Following an investigation, we accepted this.

 

  • Decision 206/2016 The Applicant and Police Scotland
    The Applicant emailed a request to Police Scotland, followed by a request for review, but got no reply. This was because Police Scotland had blocked the email address as part of the approach they were taking to managing the Applicant's correspondence.

    Police Scotland accepted that the emails had technically been received but were never made available so that a member of staff could act upon them. We found that Police Scotland had failed to comply with the timescales for response. Police Scotland subsequently responded to the Applicant's review request and made changes to the filter on their server so that information requests submitted by the Applicant would be accepted if sent in a specified way to a specified address.

Resolved cases:

We also resolved five cases in September without the need for a formal decision. Here are some of the ways this was achieved:

  • Information was disclosed during the investigation
    This happened in two cases. In one, the authority disclosed a piece of statistical information, which satisfied the requester. In the other, the authority disclosed some information and, after discussion with our office, the requester accepted that the rest of the information would not be disclosed, and withdrew their appeal.
  • The authority withdrew a fees notice
    This happened in two cases, involving the same public authority. It had charged a fee for information, claiming this was in line with the charges listed in its publication scheme. During our investigations the authority accepted that the information was not covered by the publication scheme. (For more information on charging for information in a publication scheme, see our Model Publication Scheme Guide for public authorities.)
  • The authority agreed to carry out a new review
    In this case, the requester was unable to ask the Commissioner to review the matter of particular concern to him because he had not raised it in his request for review. Because of the particular circumstances in this case, the authority agreed to carry out a new review, and the requester withdrew his application.

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