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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 5 - 9 May 2014

We published six decisions this week - details, links and learning points below.

 

Key messages:

 

  • Public authorities may not always hold the information you expect
    Sometimes public authorities won't have the information that a requester might expect. In Decision 091/2014, the public authority provided funding for school placements, but it wasn't able to provide a list of the pupils' former schools. It explained that this information was instead held by the school receiving the funding.

 

  • If you already have the information you asked for, your request may be refused.
    If you can access information without making an FOI request, it's likely that an FOI request will be unsuccessful. This applies to information which has already been published, or information which you have already received from the public authority.

 

  • If a request is ambiguous, check with the requester
    Early discussions with a requester are sometimes important so that everyone is clear what information has been asked for. In Decision 094/2014, the public authority directed the requester to its website for some information, but he couldn't find what he needed. After investigation, it turned out that there was more than one possible interpretation of the request. It's important not to make assumptions about what the requester means or understands.

 

  • Don't refuse a request without checking whether you hold the information
    This is something which comes up a lot - public authorities apply exemptions or exceptions to information, and later discover that they never held it in the first place. Likewise, when calculating costs, authorities sometimes overestimate how much information they would have to look through. In Decision 096/2014, the authority told the requester that her request covered so much information that it was "manifestly unreasonable". However, the authority later realised that it didn't hold some of the information, which would reduce the cost of dealing with her request.

 

  • If you don't provide submissions, the decision may go against you
    In Decision 096/2014, the public authority failed to provide any arguments during our investigation. Because there was no evidence to support its position, the decision went against the authority. It's important to provide full and accurate submissions when we ask for them.

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 091/2014 David Whitton and the Scottish Ministers
    Mr Whitton asked for a list of schools whose pupils had accessed St Mary's Music School in the past five years. The Ministers told Mr Whitton that they did not hold this information. After investigation, we accepted that while some places at St Mary's are funded by the Scottish Government, the scheme is administered by the school and Ministers do not have the information requested.

 

  • Decision 092/2014 Mr Brian Dick and West Lothian Council
  • Decision 093/2014 Mr Brian Dick and West Lothian Council
    Two decisions where we found that the Council had failed to respond to Mr Dick's request for review within 20 working days.

 

  • Decision 094/2014 Mr Rab Wilson and the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB)
    Mr Wilson asked for information about petitions presented to the Scottish Parliament in the past ten years. He was told that most of the information he had asked for was already in the public domain and that the SPCB did not hold information for one part of the request. We accepted that the SPCB did not hold some information, but it should have asked Mr Wilson to clarify what information he was looking for. We required the SPCB to provide another response to his request for review.

 

  • Decision 095/2014 Mr R and the Scottish Prison Service
    Mr R asked for some meeting notes. The information was his own personal data and was provided under the Data Protection Act. We accepted that because he had access to the information in this way, it was exempt from disclosure under the FOI Act.

 

  • Decision 096/2014 Ms Mary Wilson and City of Edinburgh Council
    Ms Wilson asked for information about proposed cavity wall insulation. The Council told her that her request was manifestly unreasonable under the EIRs. During our investigation, the Council found that it didn't hold all the information she had asked for. The Council failed to explain whether the request would still cost an unreasonable amount to answer, or to provide Ms Wilson with the information it held. We required the Council to provide another response to Ms Wilson's request for review.

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