Failure to respond to information requests threatens to undermine Scotland’s FOI regime

News release 07 August 2014

Rosemary Agnew, Scottish Information Commissioner, is today laying a report before the Scottish Parliament to draw attention to the extent of failures to respond to freedom of information (FOI) requests. Almost a quarter of all the valid appeals she receives are about a Scottish public authority’s failure to respond to requests on time (or at all). Yet FOI law requires authorities to provide a full response within 20 working days - effectively a month.

Rosemary Agnew said:

"People ask for information when they need it. FOI law is designed to get them the information they are entitled to promptly. When authorities don’t respond to requests they are effectively denying an individual’s rights. This is not only stressful and damaging to requesters; it damages public confidence in authorities and the FOI regime itself. This is why I’ve laid today’s report to draw the Scottish Parliament’s attention to the issues and extent of a problem which, left unchecked, could undermine the high regard in which our FOI regime is held."

The problem is not typical of all authorities. Most authorities do well. Just 34 Scottish public authorities were the subject of appeals about failure to respond last year and only five authorities accounted for 50% of those appeals. There is no evidence of any connection between failures to respond and the size of an authority, nor the volumes of requests it receives. The Commissioner’s experience suggests that where the problem of failure to respond appeals is most acute, the issue may not be just about FOI, but about a relationship issue between authorities and requesters, or types of requesters, or a single issue which is driving request volumes. Many authorities respond on time to large volumes of requests by and putting in place effective FOI practices.

Rosemary Agnew said:

"Every failure to respond is a denial of someone’s statutory right to information. Every failure to respond is a failure by a Scottish public authority to meet its statutory duty."

Notes To Editors (PDF - 35KB)

Download the report here:

Failure to Respond to FOI Requests: extent, impact and remedy (PDF - 2.85MB)

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