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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 2 to 6 November 2015

 How do you assess whether information is held by an authority? Lots of our cases involve the detailed consideration of whether an authority holds information on a particular subject or - if it is held - whether it's covered by the request. And there are even occasional cases where information which is in an authority's possession might not be "held" for the purposes of FOI…

Key messages:

  • FOI gives you the right to obtain information held by public authorities …
    We investigate a lot of cases where the requester doesn't believe that an authority doesn't hold information which would answer their request. These investigations can be time-consuming as we often need to understand how an authority's records management systems work and require them to carry out further searches. However, the detailed submissions from the authority in Decision 165/2015 meant that this wasn't necessary.

 

  •  … but not all of the information an authority has will be held for the purposes of FOI
    Even when a public authority has information in its possession it won't always be "held" by the authority for the purposes of FOI. If information is only stored by an authority on behalf of someone else, for example, and isn't used by the authority for its own purposes, it's unlikely to be "held" under FOI law. Decision 164/2015 looks at whether information which was in a public authority's possession was held by it for the purposes of the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations (the EIRs).

Decisions issued:

 

  • Decision 164/2015 Laura Twaddell and South Ayrshire Council
    Ms Twaddell asked the Council about grants or public money awarded to two companies running a putting green by the South Ayrshire Waste Environment Trust (SAWET). The decision focussed on whether the Council, which provides administrative support to SAWET, held SAWET's information for the purposes of the EIRs. We concluded that it didn't.

 

  • Decision 165/2015 David Telford and North Ayrshire Council
    Mr Telford asked the Council for a cost plan for houses in Fairlie. The Council told Mr Telford that it didn't hold any information which would answer his request. Following an investigation, we were satisfied that the Council didn't hold the information.

 

Resolved cases:

In some cases, where it is appropriate, we work to resolve cases without the need for a formal decision. We resolved 10 cases this way in October. Here are the main reasons the cases were resolved:

  • The requester was satisfied with the information provided during the investigation
    In six cases, the public authority disclosed the information in full to the requesters - usually after we told the authority we didn't agree the information should be withheld. In two cases, only some of the information the requester had originally asked for was disclosed, but the requesters were happy to withdraw their appeal because the withheld information was the personal data of a third party.

    Two of these requests were made by a prisoner. The public authorities involved told the prisoner that they could access the information on their websites. It's worth remembering that prisoners don't have access to the internet, so the "information otherwise obtainable" exemption won't usually apply in these circumstances.

 

  • A subject access request was the better way forward
    The requester wanted their own personal data. A requester's own personal data is exempt from disclosure under FOI. We told the requester that they would be better to make a subject access request under the Data Protection Act to get the information they wanted. They agreed and withdrew their FOI appeal.

 

  • The requester accepted that the authority didn't hold the information they had asked for
    Following an investigation, we were satisfied that the authority didn't hold the information the requester had asked for. We discussed this with the requester and asked if she still wanted a decision. She chose to withdraw her appeal.

 

  • The public authority decided they no longer wanted to refuse the request on the basis that it was vexatious
    We agreed that the public authority could issue a different review response to the requester. The requester withdrew their application so that they could make a fresh appeal if they were unhappy with the new outcome.

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