Slight drop in freedom of information appeals

30 September 2014

The number of appeals made to the Scottish Information Commissioner fell for the first time in five years, according to her annual report published today [30 September]. The report attributes the fall, from 594 appeals in 2012/13 to 578 in 2013/14, to a drop in the number of appeals made because authorities failed to respond to FOI requests within the 20 day statutory time limit. At the same time that appeals have fallen, enquiries to the Commissioner's office have risen by 11% resulting in more help being given to requesters and authorities on using FOI more effectively.

In recent years, the proportion of FOI appeals made because an authority failed to respond had grown, peaking at 27% of valid appeals in 2012/13. The fall to 24% in 2013/14 (139 appeals), followed work by the Commissioner to highlight the issue, which resulted in her recently published Special Report on the extent and impact of the problem, and how good authorities tackle it.

Commissioner Rosemary Agnew said:

"It is encouraging to see that the number of appeals being made because of a failure to respond has fallen. It was also good news to discover that failing to respond is not widespread, but acute in only a small proportion of Scottish public authorities. There is clearly more work to be done to bring the poorer performing organisations up to the same standard as those doing well, but these early indications of improvement are encouraging.

"Everyone who makes an FOI request in Scotland should be confident that they will get a response within twenty working days. We know from our own experience that the information requested through FOI is often time-sensitive, concerning current issues. We see the information disclosed go on to be used in a variety of ways, supporting communities, informing debate and enhancing democratic engagement.

"Every public authority should ensure that it has the systems in place to respond promptly and accurately to every information request it receives."

The Commissioner's Annual Report also reveals that her office is developing new resources to help public authorities respond better to requests at the outset. The first of these resources, which will focus on helping authorities respond in time, will be available from later this year.

Other findings from the Commissioner's 2013/14 annual report include:

  • 62% of FOI appeals were from members of the public. The media accounted for 14% of appeals, while prisoners accounted for 8%.
  • In 67% of her decisions, the Commissioner found wholly or partly in favour of the requester. The Commissioner will require the release of information if she finds that a public authority has incorrectly withheld it.
  • Public awareness of FOI in Scotland is at 78%. The highest record level was 80%, in a 2011 poll.
  • The Commissioner received the highest number of enquiries about FOI to date. 2,008 enquiries were received, an 11% increase on 2012/13.
  • Scottish public authorities reported receiving over 60,000 FOI requests in 2013/14. The Commissioner began collecting this data from authorities for the first time in 2013/14.
  • 75% of appeals of FOI appeals took less than 4 months to resolve. The Commissioner met her target by responding to 75% of appeals within this timescale.

The Commissioner's full Annual Report for 2013/14 will be published on her website on Tuesday 30 September 2014.


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