PL&B FOI E-news, Issue 48

1. New FOI Guidance from ICO

Over the summer, the ICO has updated some of its old guidance and published new guidance on several topics.

New guidance includes:

  • Refusing a request (1 July 09)
  • Writing a refusal notice (1 July 09)
  • FOI and Enterprise Act 2002 (1 July 09)

Updated guidance includes:

  • Public interest test (1 July 09)
  • Advice and assistance (1 July 09)
  • The exemption for criminal investigations, criminal proceedings and confidential sources (3 August 09)
  • The exemption for law enforcement (3 August 09).

2. BBC spends £3m on FOI requests

The BBC has spent £3m on complying with the Freedom of Information Act since the law was introduced in 2005, reported The Guardian on 6 September.

The BBC has received 1,141 requests this year up to the end of July. According to The Guardian, which received its information via a FOI request, the staff costs for the BBC's Information Policy and Compliance team in 2008/09 were £614,000 with a further £42,000 in legal costs. The team also deals with data protection compliance, but a senior BBC source had told the Guardian that the bulk of the team’s work is FOI related.

3. ICO serves Ministry of Defence a practice recommendation

The ICO has issued the Ministry of Defence (MOD) with a Practice Recommendation which demands that the ministry improves its handling of internal reviews. The ICO says that the MOD has not implemented the standard target days for completing internal reviews in its processes, and has often failed to complete internal reviews within the recommended timescales.

ICO guidance states that a reasonable time for completing an internal review is 20 working days and in no case should it exceed 40 working days.

The MOD’s 2008 internal review performance was as follows:

  • 21% of reviews ongoing over 40 working days
  • 26% took an excess of 51 working days to complete
  • 13% took 41-50 working days to complete
  • 22.5% took between 21-40 working days and
  • 17.5% were completed within 20 working days.

A Practice Recommendation cannot be directly enforced by the Information Commissioner. The ICO will continue to monitor the MOD’s freedom of information procedures and performance and will assess its progress against the ICO’s recommendations over the next 12 months.

See the practice recommendation, issued on 10 August 2009.

4. Local Authority Survey reveals confusion over the FOIA and EIRS

A survey run by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to gather views on the effects and implementation of the Environmental Information Regulations (EIRs) reveals that local authorities need more up-to-date, real-life guidance.

Defra’s survey, based on a questionnaire sent to all local authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, also found that the areas of major concern to local authorities are lack of public awareness and staff training needs. There still seems to be widespread confusion over the rules on charging and how to distinguish between the EIRs and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Many EIR requests are still being handled as FOI requests due to low levels of awareness of responsibilities in some local authorities.

The survey also reveals that it is not always the largest authorities that have the best processes in place. While many authorities have FOI teams that may be staffed by information professionals, EIR requests are often passed to environmental health officers or legal officers for a response.

Responses were received from 23% of local authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The survey was published in May 2009.

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