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Fees for Freedom of Information

UNISONScotland's response to the proposed regulations on the framework for Public Authorities to follow when requesting fees for FoI Requests

Executive Summary

* The Fees Regulations suffer from the confusion and failure to reimburse authorities that was identified in the original Act

* However there are issues that may still lead to fees becoming a barrier to information requesters

* The figure suggested as an hourly rate is currently reasonable but should be either linked to wage inflation or regularly updated

* The decision not to introduce aggregation of costs for two or more similar requests is supported.


The two draft Statutory Instruments implement Sections of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 that allow Ministers to make regulations giving the changing of fees. They therefore suffer from the problems flagged up with the fees component of the Act. In particular:

(i) An authority can refuse to supply information if the cost is more than £600. This could be used by authorities as an excuse to withhold information.

(ii) If they do supply this they can charge the full amount for any costs over £600. This could become a financial barrier to some groups or individuals requesting information.

(iii) The amounts that authorities are able to charge will not reflect the cost of providing information. Yet they will receive no assistance from the Executive towards these costs. This will put pressure on them to maximise return from the enquirer, which again could become a financial barrier to information requesters.

Auditory pressures

A further pressure on authorities to charge-given the lack of any concrete support from the Executive-is the perception that they could be criticised by (internal or external) audit for 'failing to maximise income.' It might be useful to include in the regulations (and not just the guidelines) clear statements to the effect that the power to change fees is discretionary and that authorities should be mindful that applicants may be on low incomes.

A better system would be to institute a system to agree costs and for these costs (or a proportion of them) to be borne by the Scottish Executive. This would simplify the positions for requesters, remove any financial barrier to the legislation, and fairly assess and fund this useful piece of legislation.

Currently the fees and their implementation are confusing and have the double problem of being a barrier to the full delivery of Freedom of Information yet not contributing significantly to any likely costs. This is not a problem of the regulations but of the Act.

Hourly Rate

The hourly rate being suggested (£15 per hour) is a reasonable approximation at the present time. Of course, it assumes adequate systems are in place for information storage and retrieval. Another concern is that this figure is not linked to inflation. It, therefore, runs the risk of eventually reducing to an unrealistic level unless regular updates are made.

Aggregating Costs

On the positive side, we agree that the decision not to introduce the provisions in the Act to aggregate costs where two or more requests by one or more persons acting in consort is a reasonable approach. UNISON has always maintained that requests for similar information would be easier to deal with and should not therefore have aggregated costs added to them.

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For Further Information Please Contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX

Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

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