Freedom of Information news, Issue 01

  1. Deadlines for FOI responses extended in some cases
  2. Draft Environmental Regulations before Parliament
  3. Fees regulations
  4. New FOI guidance available on the web
  5. Records management guide for schools

1. Deadlines for FOI responses extended in some cases

Draft regulations, which allow more time for some public authorities to respond to FOI requests, have been published. The Government proposes to extend the normal response time of 20 working days to up to 60 working days in some cases. The extension would apply to schools and, in some cases, to the military.

The new order would permit more time for schools as they may find it impossible to process the requests within 20 working days due to long summer breaks. The extension would apply to governing bodies of all maintained schools and maintained nursery schools, and schools maintained by the Ministry of Defence.

The armed forces would also benefit from the new extension. It has been argued that the military may not be able to meet the normal deadline if it needs to find information from someone involved a military operation, or if it needs to send a request for information abroad. The latter circumstance may be applicable to other public authorities as well. In both cases, the public authorities must apply to the Information Commissioner within twenty days of receiving the request for information.

There have been concerns that public authorities are not prepared for the 1st of January 2005 commencement date. However, these new rules are understood to be applicable in very limited cases, and will not provide much leeway.

Click here for the draft regulations

2. Draft Environmental Regulations before Parliament

From 1st January 2005 people will have rights to access environmental information under the Environmental Information Regulations. The regulations apply to information held by public authorities or those bodies carrying out a public function. If replying to the request would include personal information, and the applicant is the subject of the information, access to that information will be dealt with under the Data Protection Act. The regulations are currently in draft form, and are expected to be adopted by the end of the year.

3. Fees regulations

The Government will lay fees regulations before the Parliament in November.
Lord Falconer, Secretary for Constitutional affairs, has indicated that there will be no charge for the majority of FOI requests. No fee may be requested for information that costs the public authority less than £450 to produce. For central Government, the limit will be £600. It is suggested that the Government will reimburse local government (councils) for any additional costs resulting from the Freedom of Information Act in 2005-06 and beyond.

4. New FOI guidance available on the web

The Department of Constitutional Affair has published guidance on FOI compliance. The guidance is intended for Government Department Officials, public authority officials, and the general public. The guidance is published in four sections:

  1. A guide to processing information requests.
  2. An introductory guide to the use of exemptions.
  3. A summary of each exemption, highlighting the key issues.
  4. Detailed guidance on the use of exemptions and factors to be taken into account when considering their application.

Guidance is also available on publication schemes. Click here for more information.

5. Records management guide for schools

The Records Management Society has produced a Records Management Toolkit for Schools in order to help compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. The Toolkit contains a sample records management policy and retention guidelines, as well as other records management advice, including a policy about dealing with e-mail. The intention is to provide schools with the documents they need to comply with the legislation with the minimum of duplicated effort.
The society has also produced the Retention Guidelines for Local Authorities and Information Audit Best Practice Guidelines. Click here for more details.

For further details on the Privacy Laws & Business UK Newsletter, please click here.

Copyright Privacy Laws & Business 2004


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