Decisions Round-up: 27 to 31 March 2017

This week's round-up explains the benefits of both communicating with requesters to understand their requests fully and of informing requesters if a response is going to be late. We also explain why we can't always share the full reasoning for withholding information in our decisions….

Learning points:

  • If the request isn't clear, then ask!
    Under the FOI Act, an authority can ask someone to clarify their request if the authority isn't sure what information they want. Decision 041/2017 looks at a case where the authority didn't understand an acronym used in a request, but didn't ask the requester to explain what it stood for. This meant that the authority had significant difficulties locating the information and ended up responding late. And requesters - when asking for information, it's best to be as clear as possible, to ensure a quick response.
  • Requesters should be contacted if the response is going to be late
    The timescale for responding to information requests is statutory. But if a response is going to be late, it's good practice for an authority to give requesters an indication of when they'll get a response. Doing this will help the requester, and might reduce the likelihood of a request for review. In Decision 041/2017, the authority apologised for the delay, but didn't tell the requester when they were likely to get a response. This was part of the reason the requester asked for a review.
  •  The health and safety exemption: giving reasons
    In Decision 045/2017, we were satisfied that disclosing information would endanger the health and safety of individuals and that, on balance, the public interest favoured withholding the information. In cases like this, we can't always give full reasons in our decisions, as that could put people in danger. However, it's really important that authorities share, in full, their reasons for applying the exemption with us. Otherwise, we might not be able to uphold the exemption.

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 039/2017  William Walton and the Scottish Ministers
    The Ministers were asked for transcripts of oral evidence presented during the independent review of the Scottish planning system. The Ministers told Mr Walton they didn't hold this information as no transcripts of oral evidence had been taken. We were satisfied with the searches carried out by the Ministers and that they did hold not any information falling within the scope of Mr Walton's request.
  • Decision 041/2017  James McEnaney and the Scottish Ministers
    Mr McEnaney asked the Ministers about accommodation arrangements for people visiting Scotland on official business. We found that the Ministers failed to meet the 20 working day timescale for responding and failed to provide Mr McEnaney with adequate advice and assistance.
  • Decision 043/2017  Campbell Martin and North Ayrshire Council
    Mr Martin asked the Council about its Schools PPP ("Public Private Partnership") Project and/or bidding process, including correspondence to or from Strathclyde Police, the Crown Office and two named MSPs. The Council initially told Mr Martin that it didn't hold any information, but located some information at review and disclosed it. We accepted that the Council had by then conducted adequate searches and did hold not any more information falling within the scope of the request.
  • Decision 044/2017  Melvich Primary School Parent Council and Highland Council
    The Council was asked for travel and subsistence expense claims made by officials in its Education Department. The Council failed to respond to the request and request for review within the FOI timescales.
  • Decision 045/2017  Julia Davidson and the Scottish Ministers
    The Ministers were asked for the name of each non-governmental organisation they had given "Prevent" funding to in the past five years and how much funding each of the organisations had received. The Ministers refused to disclose some of the information on the grounds that to do so would endanger the mental or physical health or the safety of individuals. We agreed that the information was exempt from disclosure.


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