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
* 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.
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.
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.
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.
For Further Information Please Contact:
Smith, Scottish Secretary
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835
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