Decisions Round-up: 15 to 19 January 2018

This week's round-up has details of our first 2018 decisions, two of which feature learning points that are unfortunately far too familiar…

We also have advice for requesters to help ensure that a request will access the information you actually want.

Learning points:


  • New year, old learning point…
    Yes, it's that old chestnut - public authorities need to make sure they comply with the response timescales set down in the FOI legislation. Unfortunately, the first two decisions we published this year, Decision 001/2018 and 002/2018, both found that the authorities breached the timescales. Authorities that still struggle to meet FOI timescales should take advantage of our self-assessment toolkit. Setting aside time to work through our toolkit will almost certainly save time in the long-run, through fewer FOI reviews and appeals.


  •  …but just complying with timescales isn't enough
    Not only is it important to respond in time, it's also important to make sure the response is accurate. In Decision 004/2018, the authority withheld the information under various exemptions. It was only when the case came to us on appeal that it argued that it didn't have to comply with the request because it would cost more than £600 to do so.

    If an authority thinks responding might cost more than £600, it should look at this as early as possible, and certainly within the 20 working days for responding to the request..


  • When making a request, think about whether an authority is likely to hold the information you want
    The Commissioner's role is limited to looking at what information a public authority actually holds. Authorities aren't required to create or compile new information in order to respond to a request. When making a request, think about whether the authority is likely to hold the information you want.

    In Decision 003/2018 we were satisfied that the public authority didn't hold the information. If you're not sure how to word a request, remember that you can always ask for advice before asking for information - public authorities have a duty to help you. Our tips for requesters or enquiry service can also help.


Decisions issued:


  • Decision 001/2018 Claire Miller and Angus Council
    The Council was asked how many people had died while waiting for a social care package to start, or who had waited for longer than one year. The decision finds that the Council did not respond to the request for review within the FOI timescales.


  • Decision 002/2018 Brian Gourlay and West Dunbartonshire Council
    The Council was asked for various pieces of information about its contact with Occupational Health. The decision finds that the Council failed to respond to the request - and request for review - in the time allowed.


  • Decision 003/2018 Ross Aitken and City of Edinburgh Council
    This involved a request for the number of safe crossing points for cyclists on the Edinburgh tramline. The Council told Mr Aitken that it didn't hold the information - and explained why. We were satisfied that the Council didn't hold the information.


  • Decision 004/2018 Paul Drury and Police Scotland
    Police Scotland was asked about the purchase of armed equipment and ammunition. It initially refused to disclose the information on the basis that it was exempt from disclosure. However, during the investigation, Police Scotland changed its position and argued that it was not obliged to comply with the request because it would cost more than £600 to do so. We required Police Scotland to issue a new review response to Mr Drury - and give him advice and assistance about narrowing the scope of his request if necessary.


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