28 September 2023
The Commissioner is aware that a significant number of historic information requests made under the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (the EIRs) were closed by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) earlier this year.
Many of these cases had been impacted by a December 2020 cyber-attack against SEPA, which led to a substantial amount of information being inaccessible to the organisation at that time. This resulted in a considerable backlog of requests building up, and significant delays in responding.
Unfortunately, many requesters did not ask for the handling of their request to be reviewed by SEPA within the strict timescales imposed by the EIRs. This meant that many requesters were effectively ‘timed out’ from asking for a review, or appealing to the Commissioner.
While it was by no means an ideal situation, therefore, the Commissioner acknowledged that the quickest and most practical route for requesters who still wished to receive the information in these circumstances was for a new request to be made (with a refreshed right of review and appeal).
The Commissioner was disappointed to learn recently, however, that the steps taken by SEPA to communicate the closure of these cases and the way forward for requesters who still wish to obtain the information do not appear to have reached all of those affected.
We appreciate that this will be extremely frustrating for requesters who have only learned of the closure of their own requests some months later.
Having had this matter brought to our attention, the Commissioner has contacted SEPA to discuss this matter, setting out that further steps should be taken to notify those affected.
In the meantime, anyone who is affected by this situation and is seeking to take their own case forward should resubmit their own request(s) (updated, where appropriate), enabling them to be considered by SEPA as new requests.
SEPA will then have 20-working days within which to issue a response (with a possible extension to 40 working days if a request covers environmental information which is complex and voluminous).
If a response isn't received within the appropriate timescale, or if you are unhappy with any response received, you will then be able to request a formal review.
After a further 20 working days, if you’re unhappy with that response, you’d be able to bring a formal appeal to our office.