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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 10 to 28 September 2018

We only feature two decisions this week - both relating to failures to respond to an FOI requests. This doesn't mean we're short on learning points, however: even the most straightforward cases can have valuable lessons for authorities and requesters…

Learning points:

  • There's only one chance to conduct a review
    If an authority has failed to respond to a request and then is asked for a review, that review may sometimes be the first time the authority has properly considered the request. However, the response by the authority will be the outcome of its review, and not the response to the initial request. The requester's next step, if they're unhappy, will be to appeal to the Commissioner. In Decision 143/2018, an authority wrongly invited the requester to ask for a further review of its response.
  • Requesters must be told about their appeal rights
    Every FOI and EIR response must tell the requester about their appeal rights, so they can take action if they're unhappy. In Decision 143/2018, we criticised the authority for failing to tell a requester about his right of appeal to the Commissioner.
  • Staff absences shouldn't get in the way of FOI
    It's essential that public authorities have processes and procedures in place to ensure that staff absences don't disrupt their FOI function. This should include the clear recording and tracking of requests, so that staff who step in can quickly identify the status of each request and any action required. In Decision 142/2018 the public authority had prepared its response to a requester but, as a result of staff absence, subsequently failed to send this out.
  • Requesters can appeal if they're unhappy for any reason
    If a requester is unhappy with any aspect of an authority's handling of an information request they can bring an appeal to the Commissioner (after first asking the authority for a review). In Decision 143/2018, the authority failed to respond to both a request and request for review. Shortly after making an appeal to the Commissioner the requester received a full response. In this case, however, the requester decided to pursue his appeal, asking the Commissioner to investigate the authority's repeated failure to respond within FOI timescales.
  • Failing to respond? There's help available…
    In both of this week's decisions the authority failed to respond with the FOI Act's 20 working day timescale. Failing to respond will only store up problems for later, as authorities find themselves dealing with resource intensive reviews or appeals. Any authority that has problems in this area can make use of our "Responding on Time" toolkit, which has advice and guidance to help address this issue.

Decisions issued:

  • Decision 142/2018 Mr H and the Scottish Prison Service (SPS)
    The SPS was asked for information on complaints it had received about nepotism. We found that the SPS failed to respond to the request and review request within the FOI timescales.
  • Decision 143/2018 Mr Scott Robertson and East Lothian Council
    The Council was asked for information about financial transactions relating to Musselburgh Athletic Football Club. We found that the Council failed to meet the 20 working day timescale for responding, both when asked for the information and when asked for a review.

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