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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 19 February to 2 March 2018

This week's round-up features a case where a public body's use of internal jargon got in the way of effective FOI. We also highlight a decision where the Commissioner ordered an authority to release the name of a councillor in Council Tax arrears.

Learning points:

 

  • Terminology shouldn't restrict requesters' rights
    Public authorities shouldn't let internal jargon or obscure terminology get in the way of effective FOI. If it's clear what a requester is looking for from the language used, then requests should be responded to; and if it's not, clarification should be sought.

    In Decision 014/2018, we criticised the authority for making an unreasonable distinction between a project "review" and a "health check". If there was any significant difference between these terms, this should have been explained to the requester - otherwise, information about the health check was covered by a request referring to the project review.

  • Councillors in arrears of council tax - publishing their names
    Decision 019/2018 looks at when the names of councillors in arrears of council tax can be disclosed. In this case, we ordered a council to disclose the name of a councillor who was in arrears, but decided it would be unfair to disclose the names of two other councillors. The decision sets out the criteria we considered, which should assist councils faced with similar requests.
  • Our regular reminder - timescales matter
    In three of this week's cases the authority failed to meet the timescale for response in the FOI legislation. There may be particular reasons why each failure occurred, but they all count as non-compliance. Authorities who want to improve their performance should use our self-assessment toolkit. While it may take time to work through, the toolkit will save time in the long run by reducing FOI reviews and appeals.

Decisions issued:

 

  • Decision 014/2018 Ian Watt and Aberdeen City Council
    Mr Watt asked about the review of the Council's Open Data project. The Council told Mr Watt it wasn't carrying out a project review, so didn't hold any information. During our investigation, we became aware that the Council had disclosed information which fell within the scope of Mr Watt's request in response to a differently-worded request. We required the Council to carry out another review and criticised it for taking an overly narrow view of Mr Watt's request.

 

  • Decision 015/2018 Mr X and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC)
    The SLCC was asked for information about a complaint. It responded that it did not hold some of the information, while other information was exempt from disclosure. After investigation, we were satisfied that this response was correct.

 

  • Decision 016/2018 Mr Z and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland
    Mr Z asked for the name of the Chief Inspector who attended a particular meeting. Police Scotland refused to confirm or deny whether the information existed or was held by them. Given the circumstances, we accepted that it would not be in the public interest for Police Scotland to reveal whether the information existed or was held.

 

  • Decision 017/2018 Brian Gourlay and West Dunbartonshire Council
    The Council was asked for information about access to the Occupational Health service. We found that the Council failed to respond to his request and request for review within the FOI timescales.

  • The Applicant and the Office of the Scottish Charities Regulator (OSCR)
    OSCR was asked about complaints raised against a named charity between two dates. It replied that it had already provided the information for part of the time period. OSCR said it did not hold information relating to the remaining period covered by the request.

    We accepted that OSCR had previously responded to a similar request, but found that its earlier response did not cover the whole time stated in the refusal notice. OSCR was therefore incorrect to say that the request was a repeat request in relation to the whole period it had specified. However, we accepted that OSCR did not hold information relating to the rest of the period specified in the request.

 

  • Decision 019/2018 Tom Taylor and East Renfrewshire Council
    The Council refused to disclose the names of three councillors who were known to be in arrears with Council Tax payments during a specific period. It considered that disclosure would breach the data protection principles.

    We found that the Council was correct to withhold the names of two of the councillors, but should have disclosed the name of the third councillor.

 

  • Decision 020/2018 Paul Hutcheon and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland
    Police Scotland were asked for the total number of officers seconded to the National Public Order Intelligence Unit during its lifetime. Police Scotland refused, because the cost of complying would exceed the £600 limit.

    After investigating, we accepted this, but found that Police Scotland had failed to respond to the request and request for review within the FOI timescales.

 

  • Decision 021/2018 Doug Paulley and Midlothian Council
    Mr Paulley asked for a list of vehicles accessible to passenger in wheelchairs. We found that the Council failed to respond to his request for review within the FOI timescale.

 

  • Decision 022/2018 Mr X and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland
    Police Scotland were asked for the names of officers who had allegedly lied about someone having a criminal conviction. Police Scotland refused to confirm or deny whether the information existed. We accepted that it would not be in the public interest for Police Scotland to reveal whether they held the information.

 

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