Making a request
There are several points to be aware of when making a request.
- All requests must be in a permanent form; this would normally be in writing (including e-mail) but it can also be a video or audiotape.
- There should be a name and address for correspondence.
- The applicant does not have to mention the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA); any request that meets the criteria will be automatically treated as a freedom of information request and dealt with under the terms of the FOISA.
- The applicant does not have to give a reason for the request and should not be pressed for one.
- There should be a clear description of the information sought. It is incumbent on the authority to ask for clarification if this is necessary. However, if the applicant does not respond to a request for clarification the authority does not have to pursue the case further.
- Authorities are under a general duty to provide advice and assistance to applicants. For example, if the applicant is unable to provide a written application, this could include taking a note of the applicant’s request over the telephone and sending it to him/her for confirmation.
Once received, the authority has 20 working days to respond. The authority will consider several points when a request is received:
- Is the information contained within the authority’s publication scheme? If so, the applicant should be referred to it.
- Is the information held by another authority? If so, the applicant should be informed of this and given contact details. This applies even if the information is only available elsewhere for a fee. However, applicants should only be redirected in this way if the authority receiving the original request has confirmed that the information sought is, indeed, held by another public authority, and if securing that confirmation does not unreasonably delay a response to the applicant.
- Does an exemption apply?
- If the exemption is not absolute, does the public interest in making the information available override the exemption?
- Is the information covered by the Environmental Information Regulations or the Data Protection Act?
- How does the applicant wish the information to be conveyed? The authority should be aware of the Disability Discrimination Act when considering requests for alternative formats.
Under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA), all public authorities have to make available a publication scheme which is approved by the Scottish Information Commissioner. The
scheme should list all the information which an authority currently
publishes or intends to publish. It should group the information in
classes, or types, and include a brief description of each with details
of available formats (for example, paper or internet) and state whether
there are any costs involved in obtaining it. There should be details
of how and where to obtain the information with a contact name and
address. Information listed in the publication scheme is exempt under section 25 of the FOISA because it is reasonably obtainable
other than by requesting it under section 1(1) of the FOISA. If a
request is received for this information the applicant will simply
be provided with a copy of the information on receipt of any appropriate
fee, or directed to the location where it is available. The Scottish Information Commissioner has provided guidance on publication schemes and has produced model schemes.
Some requests for information may involve a considerable amount of searching and checking and will therefore take up quite a lot of staff time. Accordingly, sections 9 and 13 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) provide for fees to be charged in accordance with regulations made by Scottish ministers. These fees are set out in the following Scottish Statutory Instruments:
- Freedom of Information (Fees for Required Disclosure) (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (SSI No. 467 of 2004). Available on the website of the Office of the Queen's Printer for Scotland OQPS).
- Freedom of information (Fees for Required Disclosure under section13) (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (SSI No 376 of 2004) Available on the OQPS website.
The authority must estimate the cost when the request is received and send out a fee notice to the applicant, detailing how the cost has been arrived at. In order to ensure that payment is received, the 20 day response time is suspended when the fee notice is sent and resumed only when payment is received. If payment is not received within 3 months from the fee notice being sent the request can be closed, but the authority should write to the applicant to inform them of this.
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