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Help – I’ve Got A FOI Request!

Freedom of Information LogoPeople can get awfully flustered when they receive a FOI request, yet they probably shouldn’t.

The first thing to do is to actually recognise that what you have is actually a FOI request. A FOI request is:

  • in writing
  • asks for information
  • gives their real name and
  • an address for correspondence

Unfortunately, it does not need to say that it’s a “Freedom of Information request” anywhere. The onus is on us to work it out. The rationale for this is actually quite sensible – the public should not have to be familiar with which Act they need to apply under in order to access information – but it does make it harder for us. So, vigilance is essential.

If it asks for information (and we wouldn’t include things we give out in the normal course of business such as prospectuses, guides to the Library etc) and fulfils the other criteria, it should be forwarded to me at Please do this even if the requested information is in your department and to hand.

The first thing that happens once I get it is I log the request. I keep statistics on all the FOI requests received and these are reported to the executive board on a six monthly basis. It’s useful to do this as we then have statistics that we can use to prove the effect that FOI has on the organisation, which in turn comes in handy when it comes to feeding back to the government or the Information Commissioner. It also means that I can ensure that we respond within the legally mandated 20 working days.

I will issue an acknowledgement to the requester or, if necessary a request for clarification. The next thing I do is try to work out where the requested information might be and get in touch with the people I think can get it for me. I will forward them a copy of the request and ask them to tell me three things:

  • whether they have the data
  • whether they can extract the data within the time limit
  • whether they think there are any reasons the information shouldn’t be released

If it’s a press request or something that I suspect the senior executive needs to be aware of, I’ll also alert External Relations and/or the Chief Opererating Officer. External Relations are informed so that they may anticipate press interest and the COO may be able to input into whether any exemptions should be considered as well as anticipating any additional work that may arise.

If we hold the information, can extract it within the time limit (requesters are entitled to a total of 18 hours worth of free work, charged at £25 per hour), and it is not completely exempt I will ask the holding department to extract it and send it to me.

This may not be a trivial matter. The law says we must supply information if we hold it and it isn’t exempt, and limits us to having to spend 18 hours extracting it. At a busy time of year, 18 hours is nearly three days of someone’s time and that may be very difficult to find. I know it can be very frustrating to have someone telling you you’ve got to commit resources to do this when there’s few (if any) obvious benefits to you and you’ve got other pressures to cope with. I am incredibly greatful to everyone who assists me in complying with the legislation. It is very sincerely appreciated.

Once I have it, I will then review the data for any exemptions that may apply, including the redaction of third party personal information, or information outside of the scope of the request. Sadly, I am not entitled to include my own time in reviewing or preparing the material in the 18 hour time limit.

If the COO or External Relations have asked to review the response before it goes out, I need to do this quickly so as to not hold up the response. Only once all this is done, do I send the response out to the requester.



Posted in Freedom of Information.

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