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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 4 to 8 December 2017

A decision this week demonstrates how the use of certain words can alter the scope and handling of a request. We also have useful reminders on: the definition of environmental information and the special status of information about emissions under the EIRs.

We also closed eight appeals in November without the need for a formal decision: find out more about how we did it below.


Learning points:


  • When requesting information, choose your words carefully
    When requesting information, it's important to think carefully the wording you use. Will the authority be able to provide the information you're looking for? In Decision 200/2017 the requester asked for the cost of policing "sectarian" marches. However, the Police don't classify marches as sectarian or otherwise, so weren't able to answer this. If you're not sure about the wording to use, remember that you can always contact the authority for advice before making your request.


  • Excessive costs - remember to provide reasonable advice
    When a request is refused because responding would cost too much, the authority should provide advice and assistance to help the requester make a request which would cost less. Providing a breakdown of the costs is often the best way to help a requester. In Decision 198/2017, the authority should have explained how the information requested was held to give the requester an understanding of why it would cost so much.


  • If information is on emissions many EIR exceptions won't apply
    If environmental information relates to emissions, authorities can't withhold it under many of the exceptions in the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (the EIRs). Decision 199/2017 concerns the discharge of sea lice medicine into the marine environment - we found this was an emission, so the information should have been disclosed.


  • Information about buildings won't always be 'environmental'
    Decision 197/2017 is a reminder that information about a built structure will not always be environmental information in terms of the EIRs. The key consideration is the relationship between the information and the "elements of the environment". In this case, the request was for costs associated with an internal space within the building, which was not environmental information.

Decisions issued:


  • Decision 187/2017 Mr X and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR)
    OSCR withheld some information about a complaint against a Community Development Trust. At the start of our investigation, OSCR decided to disclose most of the withheld information.

    We accepted that the remaining information was exempt from disclosure, but found that OSCR had wrongly withheld information initially.


  • Decision 188/2017 UNISON Scotland and Glasgow City Council
    UNISON Scotland asked for information about the Council's Building Standards team. We found that the Council failed to respond to the request within the FOI Act's timescales.


  • Decision 189/2017 Jacqueline Carter Brown and West Lothian Council
    The request was for information about the number of young people referred to the Council's Counselling Service. We found that the Council failed to respond to the request for review within the FOI timescales.


  • Decision 197/2017 Hannah Kirkpatrick and City of Glasgow College
    The College was asked about the cost of the "threshold" space for its Tourism study area. It replied that it did not hold this information. After investigation, we accepted that the information wasn't held by the College or by a third party on behalf of the College. We found that the College was wrong to respond to the request under the EIRs, as the information was not environmental.


  • Decision 198/2017 Joseph Robinson and the Scottish Housing Regulator (SHR)
    Mr Robinson asked for information relating to a tender and contract for a housing association. The SHR disclosed some information, withheld other information under exemptions and refused to provide other information on grounds of excessive cost.

    We agreed that some information was exempt from disclosure, and that some information would cost more than £600 to provide. However, we found that the SHR hadn't provided enough advice and assistance to help Mr Robinson narrow this part of his request.


  • Decision 199/2017 Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)
    SEPA was asked about the use of a medicine for treating sea lice on salmon. We found that SEPA was wrong to withhold the information under one of the exceptions in the EIRs. The information related to emissions, so the exception could not apply.


  • Decision 200/2017 Adrian Fletcher and Police Scotland
    The request was for the cost of policing marches held on 1 July 2017. The Police told Mr Fletcher that they did not hold the information requested. After investigation, we accepted this.

Resolved and abandoned cases

We also closed eight cases in November without the need for a formal decision. Five cases were withdrawn, for the following reasons:

  • Review response provided
    The authority told us that it had already responded to the request for review. It provided the requester with another copy, and they withdrew their appeal.


  • Duplicate appeal
    In one case, the requester didn't realise that they had already appealed to us. When this was pointed out, they withdrew.


  • Information disclosed
    In two cases, the requester withdrew after the authority had disclosed the requested information.


  • New request made A requester decided to withdraw his appeal and make a new request after being advised that our investigation couldn't cover all the matters he raised, because a late request for review is not permitted under the EIRs.


We also closed three cases as "abandoned". In two cases, the requester failed to respond to our correspondence. In the other case, the requester failed to provide us with proof of their identity, after being asked to do so. We've just updated our guidance on proof of identity and will look at this in more detail in next week's round-up.


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