Decisions Round-up: 9 to 13 October 2017

There’s helpful advice for both authorities and requesters on avoiding the problems caused by unclear requests in this week’s Round-up, along with a rare case considering information from the UK Government which is being held in confidence – is it covered by FOI?

Learning points:

  • Is what is being asked for clear?
    Decision 166/2017 highlights the difficulties caused by a poorly-worded, ambiguous request. When in doubt, authorities should ask for clarification, rather than respond to a "best guess" of what the requester means. Only a request which "describes the information requested" is valid, under the FOI Act. However, authorities must offer reasonable assistance to the requester, to help them make a valid request - and seek clarification where necessary.

    For requesters, it's important to read through your request before sending, to ensure that it will be understood by the person responding. If the wording is unclear or open to interpretation, you're likely to run into problems. Our Tips for Requesters can help.
  • When is "held" information "not held"?
    FOI law covers almost all the information held by Scottish public bodies, but there are some rare exceptions. Information which the UK Government has provided to a Scottish public authority isn't covered by the Scottish FOI Act, if it's held in confidence (section 3(2)). Requests should instead be made to the UK Government under UK FOI law. In Decision 163/2017 we accepted that this applied to most of the information covered by the request. However, we found that some information was created by the Scottish Ministers, so was held by them on their own behalf and therefore covered by Scottish FOI. 

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 162/2017 Kenneth Docherty and Scottish Enterprise
    Mr Docherty asked about the cancellation of a contract under the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme. Scottish Enterprise said it did not hold the information. After investigation, we accepted this.
  • Decision 163/2017 Mr A and the Scottish Ministers
    Mr A asked about a feasibility study on the Carer's Allowance, carried out by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). The Ministers stated that the information was not covered by the FOI Act, as it had been provided by the UK Government and was held in confidence.

    After investigation, we accepted this in relation to some of the information. We found that the Ministers held some information in their own right, but were correct to withhold it, as disclosure would cause substantial prejudice to relations between the Scottish Ministers and the UK Government.
  • Decision 164/2017 Allan Nugent and Glasgow City Council
    The Council was asked for the name and job title of a Council officer who spoke at a meeting. The Council withheld the information, arguing that it was personal data and exempt from disclosure. Following an investigation, we agreed with the Council, finding that Mr Nugent had no legitimate interest which would require disclosure of the personal data.
  • Decision 165/2017 Guy Kerry and Highland Council
    The request was for information about public access to the area around the Rua Reidh Lighthouse. We found that the Council failed to respond to Mr Kerry within the timescales allowed by the FOI Act.
  • Decision 166/2017 Keith Banks and Police Scotland
    Mr Banks asked for the Standard Operating Procedures used by the police for investigations/assessments. Police Scotland responded that they did not hold information which would answer the request. After exploring with Police Scotland how they had interpreted the request, we asked them to conduct further searches. We concluded that they did not hold any information covered by the request.
  • Decision 167/2017 Guy Kerry and Highland Council
    Highland Council was asked for information about previous information requests and complaints. We found that the Council failed to respond to Mr Kerry's request for review within the timescale allowed by the FOI Act, and ordered it to carry out a review.


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