Decisions Round-up: 16 - 27 October 2017

When is information "personal"? This week we take a closer look at personal information and identifiability. In addition, we also look at: the different tests that need to be met when authorities want to withhold confidential information that's environmental; why it's a good idea to accept help offered by authorities and why authorities should provide information at the earliest opportunity.

Lastly, but importantly, although we may have required the disclosure of information before, it doesn't necessarily mean that we'll require disclosure of similar information in every case. Find out why in this week's round-up.

Learning points:


  • When is information personal?
    For it to be personal data, the information must allow an individual to be identified. In relation to FOI, the relevant test is not whether individuals could be identified by the authority holding the information, but whether they could be identified if the information was disclosed to the public (see Decision 176/2017).


  • Confidentiality -why it's different for environmental information
    Decision 171/2017 considers the differences between the FOI Act and the Environmental Information Regulations (the EIRs) when withholding confidential information. There are similarities, but the FOI exemption doesn't include a specific harm or public interest test, while the EIRs do. Importantly, regulation 10(5)(e) of the EIRs relates only to confidentiality which exists to protect a legitimate economic interest. So authorities must consider how disclosure would affect that economic interest, as well considering the impact of disclosure.


  • Each case is different
    Our previous decisions can be helpful, but when deciding whether to disclose information, it's important authorities consider the circumstances of each case. Although we may have required disclosure of similar (but not identical) information in the past, this does not necessarily mean disclosure will be required in every case. Decision 178/2017 demonstrates this point.


  • Disclose information at the earliest opportunity
    If an authority finds that it has wrongly withheld information, or that the need to withhold it has passed, it should disclose it as quickly as possible, without waiting for our decision. See Decision 170/2017.


  • It's good to offer (and accept) assistance
    In some cases, identifying what information the requester needs is not straightforward. It's good practice for authorities to offer requesters a chance to discuss their requirements (there's a duty to provide reasonable assistance). Usually a phone call or email exchange is enough. In Decision 169/2017, the authority offered a meeting with a search specialist. Where such invitations are given, we would encourage requesters to accept - a face-to-face meeting can often help resolve a complicated situation.

Decisions issued:


  • Decision 168/2017 Dawn Bingham and West Lothian Council (the Council)
    Ms Bingham asked for information from the Council. We found that the Council failed to respond to her request and request for review within the FOI Act's timescales.


  • Decision 169/2017 Robert M Patterson and the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland (the Keeper)
    The Keeper was asked about changes to a property title. She provided some information, but withheld information which was available on payment of a fee.

    We asked the Keeper to carry out further searches, and these led to the Keeper finding more information. We accepted that the Keeper was entitled to hold information which could be obtained for a fee.


  • Decision 170/2017 Simon Boparai and Inverclyde Council (the Council)
    The Council was asked for reports presented to a Council committee. It withheld the information under a number of exceptions. During our investigation, the Council decided that the exceptions no longer applied to some of the information.

    We accepted that the Council was entitled to withhold the remaining information under the exception relating to internal communications. We ordered the Council to disclose the rest of the information.


  • Decision 171/2017 Rebecca Hay and South Lanarkshire Council (the Council)
    Ms Hay asked for information on the developer contribution associated with a housing development.

    The Council disclosed some information, but withheld other information under the exceptions for internal communications and commercially confidential information.

    After investigation, we accepted that the Council was correct to withhold the information.


  • Decision 173/2017 Ashton King and Edinburgh College (the College)
    Mr King wanted the date of a specific meeting. The College told him that the meeting took place in mid-September 2015, but stated that it held no recorded information showing the actual date. After investigation, we were satisfied that the College didn't hold any information about the date of the meeting.


  • Decision 174/2017 David Telford and North Ayrshire Council (the Council)
    The Council was asked how a payment related to one of its planning policies, specific to a housing development.

    The Council provided some information, and stated that it did not hold anything further. Following investigation, we accepted this.


  • Decision 175/2017 David Telford and North Ayrshire Council (the Council)
    The Council was asked for information explaining the calculation of figures contained in planning documentation for a housing development.

    Following an investigation, we were satisfied that the Council didn't hold any relevant information.


  • Decision 176/2017 Mr S and South Lanarkshire Council (the Council)
    Mr S asked the Council about the allocation of council houses in a village. The Council disclosed some of the information he asked for, but withheld information which it believed would lead to individuals being identified.

    We accepted that the information would identify individuals and that it was therefore personal data. In this case, we agreed that the personal data couldn't be disclosed.


  • Decision 177/2017 Mr X and the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council (the SFC)
    The SFC was asked about the split between capital and revenue grant funding in respect of Edinburgh College. The SFC disclosed some information to Mr X at review and, later, during our investigation.

    We accepted that, by the end of the investigation, the SFC had identified and disclosed all the information it held.


  • Decision 178/2017 Mr X and Falkirk Council (the Council)
    Mr X asked for information about the Council's Pension Fund investments, including whether it had sold any interests in the secondaries market. He also asked for specified details of any interests sold.

    The Council disclosed a small amount of information, but withheld the majority on grounds of confidentiality. After investigation, we were satisfied that all the information withheld was confidential and, in the circumstances of this case, should be withheld.


  • Decision 180/2017 Brian Gourlay and West Dunbartonshire Council (the Council)
    Mr Gourlay asked for information about a report and other communications. We found that the Council failed to respond to his request and requirement for review within the timescale allowed by the FOI Act.


Back to Top