Freedom of Information Act: procedure for dealing with requests

1. Purpose

The purpose of this policy is to provide a framework to ensure that Reading Borough Council and Brighter Futures for Children fully endorses and adheres to the principles of Freedom of Information as defined in the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Compliance with the Act will be achieved by making sure that we have an up to date Publication Scheme and that requests for information are dealt with as set out in this policy.

This Policy has been approved by the Corporate Information Governance Board and is evidence of the commitment to comply with the Freedom of Information Act.

2. Scope

This policy applies to all:

  • Reading Borough Council (RBC) and Brighter Futures for Children (BFFC) and elected members who manage and handle information held by, or on behalf of RBC and BFFC.
  • It applies to all the information RBC and BFFC holds i.e. all the information created, received and maintained by staff and Members of the Council in the course of their work. Information can be held in all types of format including paper documents, electronic, visual and any other type of records that are not about living individuals.

3. What is the Freedom of Information Act

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives rights of public access to information held by public authorities.

It does this in two ways:

  • Public authorities are obliged to publish certain information about their activities
  • Members of the public are entitled to request information from public authorities.

The Act covers any recorded information that is held by a public authority in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and by UK wide public authorities based in Scotland.

The Act does not give people access to their own personal data (information about themselves) such as their health records. If a member of the public wants to see information that a public authority holds about them, they have to make a Subject Access Request under the Data Protection Act.

Compliance with the Act is a legal duty and is overseen by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

4. Principles

The main principle behind freedom of information legislation is that people have a right to know about the activities of public authorities, unless there is a good reason for them not to.

  • Everybody has a right to access official information. Disclosure of information should be the default – in other words, information should be kept private only when there is a good reason and it is permitted by the Act;
  • an applicant (requester) does not need to give you a reason for wanting the information;
  • you must treat all requests for information equally, except under some circumstances relating to vexatious requests and personal data. The information someone can get under the Act should not be affected by who they are. All requesters should be treated equally, whether they are journalists, local residents, public authority employees, or foreign researchers; and
  • because we should treat all requesters equally, we should only disclose information under the Act if you would disclose it to anyone else who asked. In other words, we should consider any information you release under the Act as if it were being released to the world at large.

A valid FOI request must:

  • Be in writing. This can be by letter or email. It could be made via the web, or through social media sites.
  • Provide enough information to determine the information requested, however there is no legal requirement to state why the information is required.
  • Include the requester’s name and either a postal address or email address.

5. Timeframe

Under the Act, public authorities may take up to 20 working days to respond, counting the first working day after the request is received as the first day.

Working day means any day other than a Saturday, Sunday, or public holidays and bank holidays.
The time allowed for complying with a request starts when the organisation receives it, not when it reaches the relevant teams that the requests relates to.

6. Exemptions

The Act has a series of exemptions that may prevent the right of access to information and which therefore may prevent release including:

  • Information accessible to applicant by other means
  • Information intended for future publication
  • Environmental information
  • Information provided in confidence

Some exemptions are ‘absolute’ either in whole or part. This means that the requested information does not need to be disclosed under any circumstances.

Others are ‘qualified’ exemptions in that they are subject to a public interest test either in whole or part. This means that a public interest test will be carried out and the information will only be withheld if the public interest in not disclosing is greater than the public interest in disclosing.

Some of the ‘qualified’ exemptions are also subject to a prejudice test, which must be carried out before the information can be considered exempt. This test considers whether harm will or is likely to be caused if the information is released.

Expert opinion should always be sought from the Council’s Information Governance Team, when considering if any exemptions apply to a request.

Please refer to Appendix A for a list of exemptions.

7. Procedure

The Procedure will be managed by the Customer Relations Team, for the purpose of the FOI Module system, CRT will be noted as The Triage Team and Response Team.

  • Customer logs FOI request through the web form (any requests received via post will be logged by the Customer Relations Team (CRT).
  • Customer will receive an automated acknowledgment of request
  • The Triage & Response team will review the request and identify the Service or Services that the information relates to
  • The request will be assigned to the relevant Service (known to the system as Contributor) to provide the response.
  • If assigned incorrectly, the Contributor must inform the Response Team and reject it to be reassigned.
  • The information collated from the Service will be drafted into a response from the Response team
  • Responses team will check the information and send it to the Approver for sign off.
  • The response will be reviewed by the Approver (Executive or Assistant Director) for the relevant service for approval. If approval is not given it will be sent back to the Response Team (CRT) to liaise with the provide clarification
  • Once the response has been approved the Response team will send out to the requestor and add to the disclosure log.
  • If the requestor is not satisfied with the response, they can request an Internal Review which will be conducted by the Information Governance Team.

8. Internal Review Procedure

If the requestor is unhappy with the way in which their request has been handled, the Internal Review will be carried out by the Information Governance Team.

A request for an internal review should be submitted within 40 days of receipt of the response by the requestor. The requestor should specify why they do not agree with the initial response and what factors they would like to be taken into account as part of the review.

The request for review will be dealt with within 20 working days of receipt by the Information Governance Team. If the review will take longer to conduct, the requestor will be informed why and when to expect a response.

If the requestor remains dissatisfied with the handling of their request or complaint, they have a right to appeal to the Information Commissioners Office.

9. Further information

Any person reading this Policy requiring further information or assistance is invited to contact the Data Protection Officer or the Information Governance Team – IGTeam@reading.gov.uk.

Appendix A – exemptions

SectionExemption
12Exceeding 18 hours to collate the information requested
21Information already reasonably accessible
22Information intended for future publications
30 & 31Information relating to investigations and prejudice to law enforcement
32Court records
35 & 36Information relating to government policy and prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs
38Endangering health and safety
40(1)Personal information of the requestor
40(2)Personal information of third parties
41Confidentiality
43Trade secrets and prejudice to commercial interests