Decisions Round-up: 18 to 22 November 2019

FOI is often described as "applicant blind" but, as we find out in one case published this week, there are some circumstances where the identity of a requester may be relevant to the outcome of their request...

Learning points:

  • Occasionally the status of the requester will be relevant…
    FOI law is often described as "applicant blind", meaning that the identity of a requester shouldn't be relevant to how an authority responds to their request. The principle here is that information which can be disclosed should be disclosed - regardless of who is asking for it, or why they want it.

    While this principle will apply in most cases, there are some circumstances where the identity or circumstances of a requester will be relevant. This might be the case, for example, if the information requested contains that person's own personal data, or if an organisation is considering refusing a request because it is repeated. An individual's past behaviour might also be relevant to an authority's consideration of whether their current request is "vexatious".

    The requester's circumstances might also be relevant when considering the FOI exemption for information which is "otherwise accessible". This exemption applies to information which a requester can reasonably obtain elsewhere. There may be circumstances where information is reasonably obtainable to a particular individual, even though it might not be accessible to the general public. In Decision 166/2019, we found that a requester could obtain information as a result of him being a trade union representative, rather than by making an FOI request for it.

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 166/2019 City of Edinburgh Council
    The Council was asked for job evaluation scores of two posts. During the investigation, the Council realised that the requester was a trade union representative and could access the information otherwise than by requesting it under FOI. We investigated and accepted that the scores were exempt as they were otherwise accessible to the requester. 
  • Decision 167/2019 Scottish Borders Council
    The Council was asked about the installation of a specific sewage system and for information contained in a building warrant file. The Council stated that all information had been previously provided and that no further information was held. We investigated and found that the Council had partially complied with the EIRs in dealing with the requests.

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