PL&B FOI E-news, Issue 20

1. Government advocates new fee structure

The Government suggests that public authorities could, in the future, charge for the time they spend considering and reading FOI requests. If this preparation work would be included in the calculation of appropriate limit, £600, it would mean that many requests which are currently answered would be refused on cost grounds in future. Currently, only searching time is included in determining the cost.

According to recent research, the requests that require consulting ministers can take up to five and a half hours more than those where ministerial input is not needed.

Maurice Frankel, Director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information said: “Ministers often insist on personally taking any sensitive decisions under the FOI Act. Allowing their time to be counted means that the more politically contentious or embarrassing the request, the greater the chance of it being refused on cost grounds.”

The Government would also allow all the requests made to an authority by the same person or organisation to be refused if their combined cost exceeded the £600 or £450 limit. The move would particularly hit the press, as well as campaigning groups and MPs, who make requests continuously.

56 MPs tabled a Commons motion on 10th October voicing their concerns over the proposals. The Government has made clear, however, that it does not intend to introduce a flat fee, or reduce the cost threshold.

The Government’s proposals were published on 16th October in its response to the Select Committee Report Freedom of Information – one year on. See

2. Tribunal ruling on ‘information not held’

The Information Tribunal has ruled that the Information Commissioner was wrong in law in upholding the Nottingham City Council’s Refusal Notice. The Tribunal has issued a new Decision Notice requiring the disclosure of the requested documents. Also, the Tribunal has ordered the public authority to pay the applicant’s costs, and has recommended that the ICO publishes a practice recommendation.

3. Government to address some of Select Committee recommendations

The Government’s response to the Select Committee’s Report – Freedom of Information – one year on, includes action points on just some of the Select Committee’s recommendations. For example, there are no promises to make the work of the Clearing House more transparent, or prepare a shared code of practice for the EIRs and FOI. Instead, the Government is considering the possibility of producing joint procedural guidance for the EIRs and FOI in the form of a user-friendly booklet.

The Government intends to initiate a review and revision of the code of practice on records management under s.46 of the FOI Act. This follows claims that records management practices in some public authorities need substantial improvement.

The Government’s response was published on 16th October.

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Copyright Privacy Laws & Business 2006