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Filing cabinet with papers flying outDecisions Round-up: 10 to 14 December 2012

We published three decisions this week.

Key messages:

  • Provide assistance by giving context (where necessary) when providing information
    Where it is clear what the requester is trying to find out, you should be proactive in helping them request the information you hold. In Decision 201/2012, the requester asked for "guidelines", because this was the terminology used by the Council in their correspondence - but there was other information which would have helped answer her questions. Always remember to consider your duty to advise and assist.

 

  • Relate your public interest arguments to the specific information being requested
    Always interpret the provisions of FOI with a focus on the information requested. Overly general arguments in favour of applying exemptions or exceptions, or public interest arguments which do not consider the specifics of the information, are unlikely to be successful. Think about how arguments might apply to the information in question. If you cannot make the argument in relation to your specific case - then consider if the information should simply be released. (Decision 200/2012)

  • Make sure information is otherwise accessible to a particular requester before claiming section 25
    Information can be withheld if it is reasonably obtainable to a requester by other means. However, you must be sure that the information is in fact obtainable by the particular requester. If it is not (and even though it may be accessible to others), then the exemption will not apply.

    Requesters, if you consider that the access route suggested by the authority will not allow you to reasonably obtain the requested information, do bear in mind that it must be genuinely unreasonable for you (rather than just inconvenient) before you should challenge the response. (Decision 199/2012)

Summary of decisions:

  • Decision 201/2012 - Ms A and Stirling Council
    Ms A asked the Council for the guidelines used to calculate her son's entitlement to travel expenses, after he attended a respite centre. The Council sent her a copy of guidelines relating to care for older people, noting that they referred to transport arrangements. When Ms A appealed, we observed that, while the guidelines did state that the framework could apply to care groups other than older people, the Council had not explained this sufficiently. It had not suggested what other information might be available to help Ms A understand the decision about her son's expenses. The Commissioner found that the Council had breached FOI by failing in its duty to provide advice and assistance to Ms A.

 

  • Decision 200/2012 - Clatto Landscape Protection Group (CLPG) and Fife Council
    CLPG asked the Council for information relating to two wind turbine planning applications. The Council released some information but withheld the preliminary case officer's reports under the EIRs, on the basis that they were internal communications. The Commissioner agreed that the information was internal communications. However, the Council's public interest arguments for withholding it were too generic, with no direct reference to the subject matter of the withheld information, and no reasons given why the public interest lay in withholding this particular information. By contrast, the public interest arguments in planning matters relating to the environment and landscape protection were clearer - and the Commissioner ordered release.

 

  • Decision 199/2012 - Mr Gary Pearson and Renfrewshire Council
    Mr Pearson's request to the Council, for information about its pre-2007 housing allocation policy, was very wide ranging. The Council provided some information, but withheld the remainder under a number of exemptions. Further information was discovered and disclosed after a review and during our investigation. The Council withheld some information claiming it was otherwise accessible to Mr Pearson in Paisley Library and on its website. However, the web-links were broken and Mr Pearson did not believe the Library was accessible to him. On investigation some other information which had been withheld as being subject to legal professional privilege, turned out not to be so. The Commissioner found that the Council had generally dealt with the request correctly, but some information had been withheld incorrectly.

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