Decisions Round-up: 24 to 28 June 2019

Whether you are the person requesting information or the one responding to a request, there are certain things that you need to tell the other person. For example, requesters need to tell authorities their full name to make a valid FOI request. If they don't, authorities should tell the requester that their request is invalid, and advise on how to make it valid. When authorities are making redactions to information to be disclosed, they need to tell the requester why those redactions have been made.

Learning points:

  • Requesters should provide a full name to ensure requests are valid
    The FOI Act requires that the requester's full name is provided with each request. Requests that give just a first name - or use a false name - won't be valid. We have received a number of appeals recently which we haven't been able to investigate because only a first name was used.

    Requesters should make sure they provide their full name in the text of the request - appearing in the email address won't be enough. If an authority receives a request that doesn't include a full name, it should advise the requester how to make a valid request, to prevent the requester having problems further down the line. We have published guidance on FOI requests and the name of the requester.

  • It's important that requesters understand why information has been redacted
    Public authorities will sometimes redact (black out) information in their FOI responses. If redactions are made to information, the requester needs to know why. Without an explanation, the requester is likely to assume that the information is being withheld under an exemption. However, the information may be redacted because it duplicates information elsewhere in what's been disclosed, or if the authority doesn't think it falls within the scope of the request at all, etc. The authority needs to tell the requester why the redaction has been made - see Decision 095/2019.

  • Requests for figures: is the answer "zero", or "info not held"?
    When the requester asks for a figure, such as how many times something happened, there is a difference between not holding the information, and holding a record which shows the answer is "nil" or "zero". Authorities should not respond "nil" or "zero" if they do not hold a record that shows the answer is truly "nil" or "zero". In the absence of a record, the proper response is that the information isn't held (although it may help to explain why), as we considered in Decision 094/2019.

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 094/2019 Colin Kerr and Dumfries and Galloway Health Board (NHS Dumfries and Galloway)
    NHS Dumfries and Galloway was asked about changes made to the payment of salaries and related payments, in particular backdated overtime payments. It provided some information, advising that for parts of his request the relevant figure was nil. The Commissioner investigated and found that NHS Dumfries and Galloway didn't hold the information in question.
  • Decision 095/2019 Mr A and Glasgow City Council
    The Council received two information requests for records relating to a named café. It didn't respond. Following requests for review, the Council provided some information and stated that it held nothing further. During our investigation, the Council located and supplied further information. We were satisfied that the Council had identified and disclosed all relevant information by the end of the investigation, but also found that this should have been done in response to the request or the request for review. We also commented on some unnecessary confusion in the way the Council handled the requests.
  • Decision 096/2019 Company C and Dumfries and Galloway Council
    The Council was asked for information relating to the tender, invoiced cost and name of the contractor for specified carriageway resurfacing and patching works. We found that the Council failed to respond to the request and review request within the required timescales.

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