Decisions Round-up: 2 to 6 March 2015


We published two decisions between 2 and 6 March – details, links and learning points below.

During February, we also resolved seven cases informally, settling them, to the satisfaction of the requester and the public authority, without the need for a decision. 

         Key messages:

  • Think about the nature of the information when looking at personal data
    When considering whether personal data should be disclosed, you will usually need to consider whether disclosure would cause unwarranted harm to the “legitimate interests” of the data subjects (the people the data is about). This is because the right to other people’s personal information has to be balanced with those people’s privacy rights (under the Data Protection Act 1998). Generally, it causes less harm to disclose information about someone’s business interests, rather than about their personal or private lives.  This is among the issues considered in Decision 027/2015.
  • Remember, you must respond to requests on time
    In Decision 026/2015, we find another case where the public authority failed to respond to the requester within the statutory 20 days.

    Decisions issued:

  • Decision 026/2015 Mr Andrew Douglas and South Ayrshire Council
    Mr Douglas asked the Council for information about the maintenance and inspection of a gate at a named primary school.  We found that the Council failed to respond to the request and requirement for review within the timescales allowed by the FOI Act. 
  • Decision 027/2015 Mr Ross McLelland and the Scottish Ministers
    Mr McLelland asked the Ministers for information about dentists who had received grants under the Scottish Dental Access Initiative (SDAI) from 2007 onwards.  The Ministers had disclosed some information, withheld other information, and said that they did not hold some of the requested information. 

    During our investigation, the Ministers disclosed additional information to Mr McLelland, withholding only the names of the dentists who received grants or who had to repay some of the grant. 

    We found that the Ministers were correct to withhold the names of dentists who had to repay some, or all, of the grant, as disclosure would breach the data protection principles. However, we did not accept the same approach applied to the names of all dentists who had received a grant and ordered the Ministers to disclose the names of dentists who did not have to repay their grant.


    Cases resolved informally

    In some cases, where it is appropriate, we will work to resolve cases without the need for a formal decision.  We resolved seven such cases in February.  Here are the main reasons that these cases were resolved:

  • The requester accepted that his application to the Commissioner couldn’t cover the issue he was really concerned about
    The requester believed that the authority held more information relevant to his request. Unfortunately he hadn’t asked the authority to look at this issue when he asked for a review.  As a result, it wasn’t something we could investigate. Although there were other points about the case we might have considered, the requester decided to withdraw his appeal and make a fresh request to the authority. 
  • The requester accepted that it would cost more than £600 to respond
    Authorities are not required to comply with an FOI request if it costs more than £600 to do so. In one case, we considered the authority’s reasons for deciding it would cost more than £600 to respond and concluded that it was correct.  When we explained this to the requester, he decided to withdraw. 
  • The requester decides there are more appropriate avenues for addressing their concerns
    In one case, the requester decided it was more appropriate to make a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office about the handling of his personal data, rather than to continue an appeal to us.
  • We managed to clarify what the requester was looking for
    In one case, it became clear that the requester and the authority didn’t share the same understanding of the scope of the request.  When it became clearer what the requester was looking for, the authority disclosed some information and the requester withdrew the appeal.  
  • The requester is satisfied that there isn’t any more information
    We can only consider what information the authority actually holds, rather than what they should hold.  In one case, we were satisfied the authority didn’t hold any more information than had been disclosed already.  The requester accepted this and withdrew their appeal.
  • The authority changes its mind
    An authority may revisit its decision to withhold information following an appeal to us.  This happened in one case last month, where the information was disclosed and the requester withdrew the appeal.   
  • The requester simply gets an adequate response
    In another case, the fact that we’d received an appeal ensured that the authority reconsidered its earlier response and concluded that it hadn’t responded fully to the request.  Once the requester had the new response, he was content to withdraw the appeal.

This is the second month we’ve provided a round-up of informally resolved cases. Did you find this useful? Contact us to let us know what you think.

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