Decisions Round-up: 21 to 24 March 2016

This week's Round-up features a case exploring the line between information that is held, and the creation of new information.


Key messages:

  • There is no obligation to create new information
    Requesters are entitled to information held by the authority at the time of the request. While this may include information compiled from several sources, it doesn't cover information which could only be obtained by data analysis, if that analysis has not already been carried out. This is discussed in Decision 067/2016.


  • If cost is an issue, can a narrower request be made?
    If a request is refused because it will cost more than £600, consider whether a narrower request can be made. This isn't just good advice for requesters: if refusing a request for this reason, authorities must provide advice and assistance. If it's not clear whether a narrower request would meet the requester's needs, the best thing is to ask them. In Decision 066/2016, we criticised the public authority for assuming that a narrower request would not help the requester, without consulting him first. While the requester may have dismissed the suggestion, it would have been reasonable to give him the chance to consider it.


  • Make your response as clear as possible
    This sounds obvious, but often we receive appeals because the requester has misunderstood the response to their request. Be careful to avoid unhelpful or legalistic language when describing what information is or isn't held. Adding some explanation will almost always be helpful. In Decision 067/2016, the response was worded in a way which made the requester believe that he had not received a full reply.

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 063/2016 Alasdair Mackay and City of Edinburgh Council
    The Council was asked for a list of contracts carried out by a company, and the names of the surveyors involved in each job. The Council provided the list of contracts, but withheld the surveyors' names. We accepted that the names were personal data which could be withheld.


  • Decision 064/2016 Mrs E and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA)
    Mrs E asked for information about the options for sewerage arrangements at a named property. She was given some information, but some parts of a telephone note were withheld. During our investigation, more information from the telephone note was disclosed. We accepted that the information could be withheld, but found that SEPA initially failed to provide Mrs E with all the information she was entitled to.


  • Decision 065/2016 Mr X and the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO)
    Mr X asked for information in one of the SPSO's decisions, but it was withheld. While the SPSO publishes summaries of decisions, we found that the information was not the same as in the published summary. We accepted that the information was personal data and exempt from disclosure under the FOI Act.


  • Decision 066/2016 Mark Mitchell and the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC)
    The SSSC was asked for timekeeping records. Mr Mitchell was told that it would cost more than £600 to respond to his request and so the SSSC was not required to comply. Following an investigation, we accepted this, but found that the SSSC should have provided more advice and assistance to help Mr Mitchell bring his request within the cost limit. We required the SSSC to do this.


  • Decision 067/2016 Mr X and Glasgow City Council
    Mr X asked for all records of errors made when calculating distance criteria for placing children in primary and secondary schools for the academic year 2015-2016. The Council confirmed two errors relating to the same school. Mr X thought there had been more errors, but after investigation we accepted that the Council had provided all the recorded information it held.

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