back to article Error time counts towards FOI rejections

An organisation is allowed to count time spent on errors in calculating when it can refuse a Freedom Of Information (FOI) Act request, the Information Tribunal has ruled. FOI legislation says that public bodies must give people the information they ask for in an official request. They are allowed, though, to refuse the request …

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  1. Greg J Preece

    That's FOI dead then...

    Nice loophole for people to exploit, there.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Isn't there an obvious way around this?

    If you submit an FOI request and they fanny about wasting time and then come back and say that they've used up all 18 hours, can't you just get your parner to submit an almost identical request? Surely it will take them much less than 18 hours since they've made a start on it at some point in the past...

    Alternatively, they could just deliberately misinterpret every request that ever comes in and never send anyone anything at all.

    Either way around, it's f*cking stupid.

  3. Cthonus
    Boffin

    Time & the Conways

    I can see the scenario playing out:

    Researcher: How many people suffer work injuries in your business each year?

    Company: (after 12hrs) Blue, green and orange.

    Researcher: That's not what I asked.

    Company: (after 6hrs) Madagascar, and the scent of lemons.

    Researcher: That's still not what I asked.

    Company: (smiles gleefully) Sorry, too late. You've had your alloted time.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    what about court time?

    they can spend time in the court but they can not spend more time to fulfill the request?

    if she believe that there is some foul play (miss treatment) that lead to her son's death, then she should be able to get all the info she needs.... isn't that what democracy is all about? She is not trying to get the information for the fun of it, her son have died and she wants to calm her heart.

  5. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Dishonourable Discharge ..... of Negiligent and Neglible Searches

    And who says that the law is not an ass for making an ass of itself in excusing its bias?

  6. Adam Salisbury
    Thumb Down

    WTF!?!

    So now if anyone in public sector doesn't the information out they just have to throw up some roadblocks and drag their feet a bit eh?

    Brilliant, the whole system's now about as useful a chocolate fireguard and twice as expensive

  7. Tim Spence

    Just make another (identical) application?

    I don't know much* about these things, but what's stopping her (or someone else) making an identical, or near identical, application?

    * = anything

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    FOI goes for a ball o sh1t

    oh joy - another hole blasted in FOI - Prediction: this will simply be abused as another 'excuse'.

  9. Philip Blythe
    Black Helicopters

    Doesn't this mean

    that any FOI request can now be foiled by an agency "misunderstanding" the orignal request and wasting time producing meaningless answers?

    very slick (and convenient) way of getting out of embarrassing situations or holding back key information.

  10. RichardB
    Black Helicopters

    Muppets queue here

    So presumably this is a green light to employ the dimmest, slowest most naturally awkward people to fulfill these requests. In fact it would probably pay to retain a hit team of the shoddiest staff possible for just these cases.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    The system works

    The ruling was that the trust had already "Substantially" exceeded the amount of time that has to be spent on FOI requests, even if they did not include the errors of handling the request it is indicated that they would still be within their rights to say the time limit has been exceeded.

    That is the system working, like it or not, it bends both ways. The trust says they don't have the information requested, if they are not being truthful then I'm not sure what recourse the requester does have, but it appears that the FOI channel has been exhausted.

    The fact that they say they should but no longer do have the information might be a line of further inquiry. These things have a habit of re-surfacing later on.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Pirate

    @what about court time?

    > they can spend time in the court but they can not spend more time to fulfill the request?

    You're thinking short-term. Long term its better to fight in court once for (say) 10 man days, rather than spend (say) 2 man days every month on longer requests.

  13. Ted Treen
    Black Helicopters

    @RichardB

    "So presumably this is a green light to employ the dimmest, slowest most naturally awkward people.."

    Richard, old lad - you've just described most of officialdom and virtually all of government. Don't forget that the main reason they are employed in those sectors is that they are otherwise unemployable.

    And as with a stagnant pool, the scum rises to the top.

  14. Jimmy 1

    So much information, so many questions, and so little time.

    Dear Mrs Francis

    We are really, really sorry but we are unable to fulfil your request for further information regarding your son's medical records at this NHS Trust.

    It may help if I describe the scale of the problems we are faced with when are tasked with retrieving old records from our information storage system. Imagine, if you will, a gas lit Dickensian workshop with hundreds of clerks seated at desks consulting large, leather bound ledgers. Below them in the basement more clerks scurry about retrieving documents from the hundreds of metal filing cabinets that line the walls. Communication between the two sets of clerks is achieved by means of modern high speed voice-pipe technology.

    In a supplementary question to your FOI request you ask "what happened to the £20 billion that the government has spent on computerising NHS records?" I regret that I am unable to provide an answer to what is essentially a political question. Please contact Alan Johnson MP who has moved from Health to the Home Office for what is expected to be a very short stay.

    Yours Sincerely

    Justin Othershill

    Head of PR.

  15. Jon 52

    easy way out.

    The information should be free with aboslutly no blocking allowed.

    If it takes more than 18hours then perhaps the requester should then have to foot the salary bill to go looking for it but the information should still have to be given, then if it is really in public interest i'm sure newspaper swill pay to get it out otherwise the msot controversial stuff will just be burried.

  16. Ted Treen
    Black Helicopters

    We do already...

    "If it takes more than 18hours then perhaps the requester should then have to foot the salary bill to go looking for it.."

    The requester already foots the bill for the salary (and pension) of these drones. It's called "tax".

    The drones used to be called "Public servants".

    Remember?

  17. David Sinclair

    Time for compliance

    Firstly, the limit on complying is monetary and not time. The specific legislation is the Freedom of Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations 2004. In addition, the authority can also take into consideration any costs incurred in finding and presenting the information. This includes any time considering exemptions. For central govt the limit is set at £600 and for most other authorities it's £450. In calculating the time, public bodies can only use the value of £25/hr regardless of who is involved. In terms of 'time' therefore, for central govt it equates to 24 hours (600/25) and for others it's 18hrs. As far as the tribunal is concerned, the costs incurred are not liked to the request. If a request breaches the limit, the authority is not obliged to respond. If it does, it can also issue a Fees Notice for the full amount and this would have to be paid before the work starts. If the authority decides not to, it MUST either advise and assist the requester in terms of drafting the request to make sure it comes in under the limit or advise the requester how much information would be available up to the appropriate limitAs far as taking into consideration incorrect responses, it's very easy to interpret a request one way only to find that wasn't what requester was after. Public bodies can ask the requester to clarify anything but if the authority doesn't think that's needed they carry on without it. Whose fault is that? The public body or the requester? (Given earlier responses, I think I know which way that will go!)

    Secondly - there's no point in the requester making the same or similar request straight away as public authorities can refuse if they consider that the request is a repeat or substantially similar unless a reasonable period has elapsed (the Information Commissioner, the FOI watchdog, has suggested 60 days is sufficient) and this would even apply if someone else made the request as the public authority would probably consider that the request has been made with the intention of tying up the body’s time or has the effect of harassing either the body or staff. In this case, I suspect that the hospital would take this line. The enquirer would be better off waiting 3-4 months and then requesting the hospital to release further information not already disclosed. There’s no guarantee it would work but that’s what I suggest.

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