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Filing cabinet with papers flying outDecisions Round-up: 22 to 26 July 2013

There were seven decisions published this week. Here are the key learning points.

 

Key messages:

  • Responding within 20 working days is a statutory requirement
    All public authorities will be aware that there is a statutory obligation to respond to information requests within 20 working days. Once again, a significant proportion of the decisions featured in this Round-up - four out of seven - concern failures to meet this obligation. Such failures deny requesters of their rights, represent a failure to meet a statutory requirement, and result in additional costs for authorities. Recurring failures of this type are clearly unacceptable, and we are examining ways in which we can work with authorities and requesters to address such failings in future.

 

  • If you don't receive a response, follow the appeal process
    If a public authority fails to respond to your information request after 20 working days, you should follow the FOI appeal process. This involves asking the authority to review its handling of your information request and then, if you're still unhappy, making an appeal to the Commissioner. Avoid making repeat requests for the same information to the authority. In Decision 139/2013, we found that a pattern of repeated correspondence on the same issue supported a ruling that the request was "vexatious".

 

  • Can you release the information with appropriate redactions?
    When applying an exemption, think about whether you can release the information with any exempt information redacted (blacked out). In Decision 137/2013 the authority accepted that it was possible to release much of the requested information with personal data blacked out. When you do redact information, remember to check to ensure that the exempt information isn't visible to the recipient as this may, for example, breach the Data Protection Act.

 

  • Requests for environmental information carry different rights
    Be aware of the differences between FOI and the EIRs, and ensure that requests for environmental information are dealt with appropriately. While there are similarities between the two regimes, there are also important differences. Failing to process a request under the EIRs can deny requesters of their rights. In Decision 144/2013 a request for environmental information was refused because responding would exceed the FOI Act's £600 upper limit. There is no such limit in the EIRs. Read our briefing on the differences between FOI and the EIRs.

 

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 137/2013 - Ms Sandra Sneddon and South Ayrshire Council
    The Council refused Ms Sneddon's request for information, on the basis that it considered the FOI exemption protecting personal information applied. The Council disclosed information during the course of our investigation with personal information blacked out. Other relevant information was identified during our investigation, which we agreed that the Council was entitled to withhold under the FOI Act's "confidentiality" exemption.

 

  • Decision 139/2013 - Mr William Cordiner and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service
    Mr Cordiner's request was refused on the basis that it was considered to be vexatious. Given the circumstances of this case and the history of Mr Cordiner's correspondence with the authority, we accepted this approach.

 

  • Decision 140/2013 - DITT Construction Ltd and Shetland Islands Council
    Decision 141/2013 - Paul Dudman and East Dunbartonshire Council
    Decision 142/2013 - Paul Hutcheon and the Scottish Ministers
    Decision 143/2013 - Simon Johnson of the Daily Telegraph and the Scottish Ministers
    Four technical cases, each featuring a failure to respond to a request and/or request for review. Each decision requires the authority to supply the requester with an appropriate response.

 

  • Decision 144/2013 - James Cruickshank and Glasgow City Council
    Mr Cruickshank's request for information relating to the demolition of listed buildings was refused by the Council, on the basis that responding would exceed the FOI upper limit of £600. On investigation, we concluded that the requested information was environmental, and the request should have been dealt with under the EIRs (which contain no upper cost limit). We therefore required the Council to issue an appropriate response in terms of the EIRs.

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