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Filing cabinet with papers flying outDecisions Round-up: 12 to 16 November 2012

We published three decisions this week.

 

Key messages:

  • Conduct adequate searches at the first time of asking

Make sure you conduct thorough searches when you receive a request, and keep evidence of these.  Authorities often carry out more robust searches after an appeal has been made to us and, as a result, locate additional information.  If you carry out robust searches in the first place it could prevent unnecessary appeals.

  • Ensure staff can identify FOI requests

Providing support to all colleagues to ensure they can identify requests when they are received is vital to ensuring they do not get missed - especially as there is no need to invoke the legislation.  Ensure all staff are able to recognise information requests, and are aware of your procedures for handling requests.  Applicants, consider making any information requests separate from other general correspondence to make it easier for an authority to identify them quickly.

  • Explaining your reasoning could potentially avoid unnecessary applications to us

When responding to requests, it's important to explain in as much detail as possible why you are not providing information that has been requested.  If the applicant understands your reasons, it may reduce the likelihood that they will appeal ? even if they are disappointed that they have not received what they asked for.

  • There is no provision in FOISA for extending timescales

The EIRs permit the response period to be extended by another 20 working days, if the volume and complexity of the information requested warrants this, but this would not apply where the delay is due to internal communications issues.  Ensure your internal procedures take account of the potential requirement to co-ordinate responses across a number of departments.  They must be robust enough to enable you to meet the statutory timescale deadlines.

Summary of decisions:

Mr Rule asked the Scottish Ministers for information contained in communications between the First Minister (and his office) and Donald Trump and the Trump Organisation.  Although Ministers provided some information, Mr Rule was convinced there was more, and appealed to us.  Ministers did find some additional information during the investigation, but they also provided us with evidence of the search returns from the various electronic search terms they used.  We found that these additional searches were reasonable and adequate, but that the searches could have been carried out earlier.

Mr X asked the SPS for a particular impact assessment and policy review.  The SPS initially failed to respond, as the requests had been mixed with other general correspondence, and had not been spotted.  When SPS responded to Mr X's request for review, they advised him that they did not hold the information.  When Mr X appealed to us, the SPS provided a more detailed explanation, which provided more clarity about why the information was not held, and we accepted this.

When the Council failed to respond to her initial request, Ms Hamilton wrote to them.  The Council wrote back stating they were unable to comply within 20 working days, and had decided to extend this period by a further 10 days.  Later, they wrote again to tell her they required more time, following which Ms Hamilton requested a review.  When the Council failed to respond to the request for review, Ms Hamilton appealed to us.  Finding that the Council has failed to comply with technical aspects of FOI law, we also found that their explanation for the delay, (that the FOI officer had to speak to other Council staff to compile a response) was inadequate ? effective procedures should be in place to expedite this.

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