Decisions Round-up: 30 November to 4 December 2015

Last week was unusual in that we didn't add any new decisions to our website. However this ought to go some way to explain why: we resolved 16 cases without going to a formal decision in November. This week's round-up shows the wide variety of ways that cases can be settled. A lot of the examples show how appeals could be avoided if authorities and requesters spoke more to each either before or after the request was made.

The FOI Act requires us to issue a decision unless we're satisfied that an appeal is "frivolous" or "vexatious" or that it has been withdrawn or abandoned. It also gives us the power to settle cases.

In practice, this can mean discussing the likely outcome of a case with the requester and - if the decision is unlikely to be in their favour or if we don't think they're going to get any additional information - suggesting that they withdraw their appeal. Alternatively, if we think the requester is right, we can suggest to authorities that they disclose the information without the need for a formal decision.

There are many reasons that might lead to a case being settled. Here are the reasons from November:

  • The appeal to the Commissioner was vexatious
    We don't have to carry out an investigation where we're satisfied that the appeal is vexatious. This doesn't happen very often, but we did use this power last month. A requester asked us to investigate a request we'd already made a decision on a few years ago. The information was historical and hadn't changed in the intervening period.
  • The authority realised its response was wrong
    During an investigation, an authority realised that it had told the requester it held some information when it didn't, and vice versa. We could have issued a decision requiring the authority to carry out a new review, but this would have meant giving the authority six weeks to comply with the decision, which could cause further delay. The authority agreed to issue a new review response within a week, without a formal decision. The requester can make a new appeal to us if he is unhappy with the new review response.
  • The authority didn't hold the information the requester asked for
    We were satisfied that an authority didn't hold the information the requester had asked for. During our investigation, the authority gave advice and assistance to the requester, which led to him withdrawing his appeal.
  • The request would have cost more than £600 to respond to
    An authority received a request about accommodation costs claimed by an employee. It told the requester it would cost more than £600 to comply with the request. During the investigation, the requester agreed to narrow the scope of his request and the authority provided the information.
  • The requester didn't realise the public authority had responded
    A requester asked us to investigate an authority's failure to respond to his review request. During the investigation, it became clear that the authority had responded, even though the response had been late. The requester withdrew his application.
  • The requester agreed to rephrase his request
    In a couple of cases, it became clear that the requester and the authority had very different ideas about the scope of the requests. In both cases, the authorities agreed to help the requesters re-write their requests and the requesters were happy to withdraw their appeals.
  • The authority agreed to disclose the information after we got involved
    During one investigation, our investigator could not understand why a public authority had withheld information and suggested that it should have been disclosed. The authority agreed to disclose the information. The requester was content to withdraw his appeal, but was unhappy that it had taken the intervention of the Commissioner before the information was disclosed.
  • The requester's grounds of appeal didn't give us anything to investigate
    A requester appealed to us as he did not accept that an authority didn't hold information he'd asked for. We asked the requester why he thought the authority did hold the information. In his response, he accepted that the authority didn't hold it. It was obvious that there was nothing for us to investigate and the appeal was later treated as abandoned.
  • The requester changed their mind
    Sometimes, requesters simply change their minds and decide that they don't want us to carry out an investigation. This happened in three cases this month.
  • The requester sent their review request to the wrong authority
    Requesters have 40 working days from the day they receive the response to their request to ask for a review. In one case this month, the requester sent her review request to the wrong authority, and by the time she appealed to us the time in which she could ask the correct authority for a review had passed. We spoke to the authority the review request should have been sent to, and it agreed to accept a late review request.
  • The requester decided he didn't want third party personal data
    In two cases, the public authority disclosed all of the information falling within the scope of the requests, except for some personal data. During our investigations, the requesters decided they didn't need the personal data and agreed to withdraw their appeals.
  • We didn't get the evidence we needed to confirm that the person who made the application was acting on behalf of the requester
    This doesn't happen very often, but we received an appeal where we suspected that the person who had made the request did not have authority to act on behalf of the person he said he was acting for. We asked for proof of that he did have authority. After several reminders, we decided to treat the case as abandoned.

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