Decisions Round-up: 8 to 19 August 2016

There's no such thing as a "blanket policy" when it comes to FOI. Every information request must be considered on its own merits - even when it comes to personal data...

Learning points:

  • Authorities can't have a policy to withhold all personal data
    In both the FOI Act and the Environmental Information Regulations (EIRs), the exemptions/exceptions relating to personal data include a number of conditions. In each case, authorities need to be sure these conditions (or at least some of them) can be met. Authorities can't just have a policy excluding all personal data from disclosure. Before they even get to that stage, the authority must also be sure the information falls within the definition of personal data in the Data Protection Act. In Decision 171/2016, we weren't satisfied that either of these steps had been taken.


  • Requesters - answering questions may be the best way of giving you information
    In many cases, the best way of giving information will be to give copies of documents. There may be other cases, though, where the request can be responded to as easily in the form of explanations or answers to questions. As long as these provide the requested information, that's fine. We looked at this in Decision 175/2016.  Our "Information or Documents" guidance can also help.


  • Requesters - be careful with time limits for appealing to the Commissioner
    After you've received a response to your request for review, you have six months to appeal to the Commissioner. We can accept appeals after this time, if we're satisfied there are good reasons for doing so, but it's advisable to get your appeal to us on time where you can. It shouldn't usually be necessary to wait for the outcome of some other process, like a complaint to the authority (Decision 175/2016).


  • And finally, remember to respond on time
    We still have a few cases where the authority's failed to respond within FOI timescales. This week is no exception, and in one case (Decision 175/2016) it took the authority approximately three months to respond to the review request. The FOI timescales are mandatory, so you'll be breaking the law if you don't meet them.

    To avoid the risk of missing timescales, read all correspondence carefully - a valid information request or review request doesn't need to be labelled as such (Decision 173/2016) - and don't assume a request or review request has been withdrawn, unless the requester specifically says so (Decision 174/2016).

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 170/2016 Ms W and West Lothian Council
    Ms W asked the Council for a variety of information. We found that the Council failed to respond to Ms W's request for review within the required timescale.


  • Decision 171/2016 ABW Consultants Ltd and West Lothian Council
    ABW asked for information relating to a planning application. The Council told ABW that it didn't hold a specific letter, but disclosed other information, from which personal data had been redacted. 

    During our investigation, the Council disclosed some more information, explaining what information it had redacted. We found the Council didn't hold the letter, but also found that the Council had wrongly applied the personal data exception in the Environmental Information Regulations. 


  • Decision 172/2016 Ms X and the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA)
    This is very similar to Decision 168/2016, reported on recently. Ms X asked for statistics relating to the old and new higher exams for 2015, this time for a number of different subjects. The SQA provided a link to its website, where it stated it had published some of the information she was looking for. The SQA claimed it did not hold the rest of the information in the format requested.

    As in Decision 168/2016, we concluded that the SQA held the remainder of the information Ms X was looking for. As the SQA had not cited any exemptions to withhold it, we ordered the SQA to disclose the information, anonymising any personal data.


  • Decision 173/2016 Ms Claire Miller and Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board (the Health Board)
    Ms Miller asked for information about numbers of people that did not attend outpatient appointments. We found that Health Board failed to respond to Ms Miller's request for review within the FOI Act's timescale.


  • Decision 174/2016 Wardell Armstrong LLP and Aberdeen City Council
    The Council was asked for a report assessing the applicants' financial case in relation to a planning application. We found that the Council failed to comply with the request for review within the required timescale.  We ordered the Council to comply with the request for review.


  • Decision 175/2016 Iain Brodie and East Dunbartonshire Council
    Mr Brodie asked for information relating to road inspection, maintenance and repair. The Council responded by disclosed some information. We were satisfied that the Council identified and located the information it held, but also found that it failed to conduct its review within the statutory timescale.

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