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Filing cabinet with papers flying outDecisions Round-up: 3 to 13 September 2013

We published six decisions this week.

 

Key messages:

  • Don't confuse the seeking of "clarification" with the wider duty to provide "advice and assistance" under FOI legislation

As seen in Decision 192/2013, clarification from a requester should only be sought where it is necessary to allow the authority to locate and retrieve the requested information. If the request is clear, clarification is not appropriate, but the authority can offer advice and assistance, to help the requester to narrow the scope of their request.

  • If suggesting that the scope of a request be narrowed to reduce costs, ensure that…

the requester receives meaningful advice and assistance. For example, by explaining why it would cost so much to retrieve the information that's been requested. Don't make assumptions about the requester's knowledge of your systems and practices as was the case in Decision 194/2013.

  • You can increase the likelihood of responding to requests within 20 working days if you…

  1. put in place systems and procedures to ensure that staff absence is covered as demonstrated in Decision 196/2013 
  2. set up effective administrative arrangements, that can be accessed by all staff, to ensure requests can be dealt with on time, from receipt to issue (see Decision 191/2013); and
  3. make sure that "review" procedures are sufficiently robust to ensure the response is issued to the requester within 20 working days as noted in Decision 195/2013.
  • Requests for environmental information carry different rights

It's important to take an early view on whether requested information is environmental as this impacts on how an authority responds to a request as shown in Decision 192/2013. Equally, if you are making a request and think the information you want may be environmental, there is no harm in expressing this in your request as it may help the authority to deal with your request more efficiently.

Decisions issued:

A technical decision, addressing the Council's failure to respond to Ms Hamilton's information request and request for review within 20 working days.

Mr L made three information requests to the Council concerning a particular property. In response, the Council sought "clarification" of each of his requests. We found that clarification should not have been sought as the requests were sufficiently clear to have allowed the Council to have reached a decision. We ordered the Council to respond to Mr L's first and second requests and because these requests include environmental information, the Council's response should be in terms of both FOISA and the EIRs. By the end of the investigation, the Council had already responded to request 3.

In response to Mr H's request for information about risk management tools, the authority withheld some of the information, arguing that its release would affect its ability to deliver the functions it was set-up to carry out. We accepted the authority's arguments.

Mr Laing's request for information was about alcohol bought and owned by the Ministers. We agreed that it would cost more than £600 to provide the information and therefore the Ministers were not required to comply, but found that the Ministers had failed to provide Mr Laing with an appropriate level of advice and assistance, in line with section 15 of the Act.

A technical decision, addressing the Council's failure to respond to Mr McLeod's request for review within 20 working days.

Another technical decision, this time addressing the Board's failure to respond to Mr Sabato's original request and subsequent request for review within 20 working days.

 

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