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Round-up iconDecisions Round-up: 21 January - 1 February 2019

Authorities have a duty to provide reasonable advice and assistance to requesters, but what is "reasonable"? Both of this week's decisions consider this. We also have important advice on the calculation of costs under FOI.

 

Learning points:

 

  • Cost estimates must reflect the work needed to respond
    FOI law allows public bodies to refuse requests if the cost of responding is more than £600. When calculating the cost of responding, estimates should reasonably reflect the work needed to respond. If it's obvious that the information will be held by a particular department or section, for example, it will normally be proportionate to limit a search to that area. Any estimate of costs should likewise be limited. In Decision 005/2019, a cost estimate included the cost of a comprehensive search of all information held right across the organisation, which was not appropriate in the circumstances.

 

  • Advice and assistance - getting it right
    Under FOI, authorities have a duty to provide reasonable advice and assistance to requesters. Compliance with this duty is considered in both of this week's decisions. In Decision 005/2019, we found it wasn't reasonable to expect the requester to come up with a search strategy for reducing costs, and the authority should have offered more assistance. In Decision 006/2019, the requester was referred to an online source for information, but found it was not up to date. The authority should have checked the availability of the information before sending the requester to the website.

Decisions issued:

 

  • Decision 005/2019 Mr G and the Scottish Ministers
    Mr G asked for correspondence to and from the First Minister about Yammer, a social networking service. The Ministers refused the request on cost grounds.

    During our investigation, the Ministers accepted that a government-wide trawl was not necessary to locate and retrieve relevant information, and found they could comply with the request within the cost limit of £600.

    We found that the Ministers had failed to provide Mr G with reasonable advice and assistance, and required them to carry out a new review of their response to his request.

 

  • Decision 006/2019 Dr O and the Scottish Ambulance Service Board (SASB)
    SASB was asked for minutes of BASICS Scotland Ambulance Service National Group meetings. SASB stated that it did not hold the minutes. It directed Dr O to the BASICS website, to which he had access.

    Dr O believed that SASB held copies of the minutes and stated that recent minutes were not available on the BASICS website.

    During the investigation, SASB provided copies of the minutes to Dr O after obtaining them from BASICS. We accepted, on the balance of probabilities, that SASB did not hold the minutes at the time it received Dr O's request.

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