Short guide for staff & others

 

Freedom of information (Scotland) Act 2002: general guidance

1.1.       Introduction

This briefing note provides the reader with basic guidance about the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

This Act applies to us from 11 November 2019.

This is intended as a summary of key issues only, not as a precise statement of law.

This briefing note covers:

  • legal background;
  • meaning of information;
  • receiving information requests;
  • processing information requests;
  • responding to information requests;
  • other rules;
  • reviews;
  • appeals;
  • internal organisational procedures; and
  • performance management.

Note: Blue Triangle (Glasgow) Housing Association Limited is referred to generally as “we” throughout this document.

 

1.2.       Legal background

The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 is the main Act that governs access by people to information held by a Scottish public authority; this includes our association. Someone who requests information under this Act is known as the “applicant” and/or “requester.”

This is separate from data protection law and the General Data Protection Regulation that cover access to personal data. The person who requests to see personal data is known as the “data subject.”

 

1.3. Meaning of information

Information refers to any information that we record such as

  • CCTV;
  • electronic information such as emails or texts;
  • handbooks;
  • photographs;
  • plans;
  • policy and any related procedural documentation;
  • survey (or consultation) reports; and
  • videos and sound recordings.

 

1.4. Receiving information requests

In order for us to process an information request, then this must be in writing, or in some other form that is relatively permanent such as a video recording. Such requests are dealt with at our headquarters as all freedom of information requests are processed here.

 

1.5. Processing information requests

Once an information request is received, then we must deal with that request in line with legal provisions, as well as good practice guidance.

The main guidance that we use is that produced by the Scottish Information Commissioner. This is the body that regulates how effectively public bodies are implementing freedom of information law.

The legal provisions cover practices such as:

  • acknowledgement of requests;
  • advice and assistance;
  • clarification;
  • fees payable; and
  • time for compliance.

We have established comprehensive procedures relating to all of these practices; these are implemented by staff at headquarters.

The provision of advice and assistance is central to our approach to:

  • enable requesters to clarify what they want; and
  • assist us to provide information effectively.

We charge fees for providing information in line with legal provisions; this is done through serving a fees notice.

The statutory time scale for complying with requests is twenty working days. This time scale starts the day after receipt of the request. So, if a request is received on the Wednesday then the first working day is the Thursday.

Note: Weekends and public holidays are excluded when calculating the time period.

 

1.6. Responding to freedom of information requests

In responding to freedom of information requests, then three main options exist.

Firstly, we may respond by providing the information requested.

Secondly, we may notify the requester that we do not hold the information.

Finally, we may refuse the request.

Requests may be refused for various reasons as covered in law. Examples include:

  • excessive costs, for example, if costs for retrieving the information exceed six hundred pounds;
  • existence of a relevant exemption, for instance, information relating to confidential or court information; and
  • vexatious and/or repeated requests, for example, requests that are intended to cause disruption or annoyance.

 

1.7. Other rules

The law contains various other rules that cover issues such as:

  • failure to locate information;
  • means of communicating information;
  • partial disclosure of information;
  • repeated requests; and
  • third party rights.

All of these are dealt with in detail in our staff procedures.

 

1.8.       Reviews

If a requester wishes to have our decision, reviews must be made to the Association, not to individual staff members.

The review can cover the actions and decisions that we have taken and/or made. This is referred to in law as a “requirement for review.”

The requirement for review must meet three factors as follows:

  • be in writing or in some other form that, due to its permanency, can be used for subsequent reference;
  • state the name of the applicant and an address for correspondence; and
  • specify the request for information to which the review relates and in what way the applicant is dissatisfied, that is, reason for dissatisfaction.

 

1.9.       Appeals

Appeals can be made to the Scottish Information Commissioner by applicants who are dissatisfied with our response to an information request. The Scottish Information Commissioner has a range of powers to enforce compliance, including the serving of an enforcement notice.

 

1.10.    Internal organisational procedures

We have established comprehensive staff procedures to cover freedom of information requests. These procedures include detailed standard forms and letters.

Our staff promote good practice by:

 

1.11.    Performance management

We monitor a range of issues, including:

  • the proportion of requests answered within statutory timescales;
  • the number of requests that have been refused and the reasons for the refusal;
  • the number of requests/requests for review received and whether they fall within FOISA or the EIRs; and
  • the number of cases that are appealed to the Commissioner and the outcome of such appeals.

 

1.12.    Summary 

This Briefing Note provides the reader with general information about freedom of information law and our duties under the law. This includes actively assisting requesters to obtain the information that they seek.

 

In order to manage this process effectively and efficiently, we process information requests centrally.