Decisions Round-up: 3 to 7 February 2020

FOI gives everyone a right to access information that is held by a public authority. Sometimes the information is not stored in quite the same form as the requester is seeking, and an authority must decide whether it can respond to the request with what it's got. We advise authorities to disclose wherever possible, but in a recent investigation we agreed that information was not held by the authority. (Whether it should have been held is not for us to decide.)

Also - when is information about a person, not personal information? When the individual concerned cannot be identified. This week's round-up features a decision about whether an authority was right to withhold information about degree qualifications of job applicants.

Learning points:


  • There's a difference between creating new information and compiling what is already held
    Where a request can be answered by compiling existing information held by the authority, that information is held for the purposes of responding to an FOI request, and is not considered to be new information.

    However, where collation of the information would require the input of skill and complex judgment (as we found in Decision 014/2020), the information is not held for FOI purposes and the request can be refused for that reason.

    Whether a public authority should hold information is not a matter for the Commissioner to decide.


  • Personal data? An individual needs to be identifiable
    Information is only personal data if it relates to a living individual who can be identified, directly or indirectly, using that information. This requirement is one of the first hurdles that must be crossed before the personal data exemption can apply.

    In Decision 015/2020 the Commissioner did not accept that the degree qualifications held by shortlisted candidates could be classed as personal data.


Decisions issued:


  • Decision 014/2020: Dumfries and Galloway Health Board (NHS Dumfries and Galloway)
    NHS Dumfries and Galloway was asked how many of its staff had had their unsocial / night hours payments reduced. It told the requester it didn't hold the information requested and that responding would require the creation of new data. We accepted that it didn't hold the information for the purposes of FOI.


  • Decision 015/2020: Moray Council
    The council was asked for the names of degrees held by candidates shortlisted for interview for the post of Senior Health and Safety Advisor. The council withheld the information arguing that it was personal data and was provided in confidence. We investigated and found that the council was wrong to withhold the information.


  • Decision 016/2020: Aberdeen City Council
    The council was asked for a copy of an invoice for e-counting software costs. The Council stated that it held the information on behalf of the Returning Officer, and not in its own right. During our investigation (following a decision of the Court of Session on a related case), the council agreed that it did hold the invoice on its own behalf, and supplied it to the requester.


  • Decision 017/2020: Culture and Sport Glasgow (Glasgow Life)
    Glasgow Life was asked for information relating to a Transport Assessment. It provided information in response, but the requester was not satisfied that this was all of the information it held that fell within the scope of the request. We investigated and were satisfied that it was.

  • Decision 018/2020: The Scottish Qualifications Authority (the SQA)
    The SQA was asked about international trips taken by staff. The SQA disclosed some information, but withheld the remainder. All of the information was disclosed during our investigation. We found that the SQA should not have withheld the information at the time of the request.


  • Decision 019/2020: The Registrar of Independent Schools in Scotland (the Registrar)
    The Registrar was asked for correspondence relating to the New School Butterstone. Some information from an advice note to the Scottish Ministers was withheld. We investigated and found that the Registrar was entitled to withhold this information on the basis that disclosure would hinder the effective conduct of public affairs.


  • Decision 020/2020: Greater Glasgow &Clyde Health Board (NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde)
    NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde was asked for information about a former GP partnership. We found that the authority failed to respond to the request for review within the FOI timescales.

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