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Freedom of Information (FOI) Requests - how can £10 cover all admin costs?

(33 Posts)
Rolf38 Fri 24-Nov-17 19:04:33

I recently submitted a FOI request to my local council. I wasn't really expecting much back on what I submitted, but when it arrived, I was taken back by the quantity of what arrived. Approx 500 pages of information/data.

In all honesty, I'm a little surprised why I wasn't charged more. Surely the cost of printing all of that data and sending it was more than what I paid, let alone the efforts to fetch all of the data.

How do FOI requests work, what are the true costs of one and if thisseason costs are subsidied, who subsidises it?

TheFifthKey Fri 24-Nov-17 19:05:57

I guess some are very small and only take five minutes and a single sheet of paper. Quantifying the time and resources would be close to impossible and take time to administer in itself, so a flat rate is the only way really.

AndNoneForGretchenWieners Fri 24-Nov-17 19:08:41

The cost is nominal to discourage frivolous requests from serial complainers. The threshold for whether an FOI would cost too much to deal with is quite high - £600, based on how many hours at an hourly rate. The £10 is not charged by all bodies - the government department I work at doesn't charge anything.

BarchesterFlowers Fri 24-Nov-17 19:09:47

The ICO doesn't allow for much in the way of charges.

ico.org.uk/media/for-organisations/documents/1153/model-publication-scheme.pdf

Copying and postage only really. I used to audit small councils, the staff costs for time spent for one small council with an active group of people who put in FOI request after FOI request resulted in exhaustion of funds. The council had nothing left in reserves (tiny place £8,000 precept), because it wasn't allowed to make any other charges.

BarchesterFlowers Fri 24-Nov-17 19:11:33

So, in terms of who funds it, it is funded by the tax payer/council tax payer depending on who you ask for the information.

Janleverton Fri 24-Nov-17 19:14:04

The costs aren't subsidised. I think there is an upper limit which involves the respondent guesstimating if fulfilling the request will take more than x hours - can't remember how long though. I had to do one recently (local gov employee) and it took me about 8 hours which given that I work 6 hours a day was a bit of a ballache and screwed up my caseload for the rest of the week. Involved going back a few years, requesting files back from external storage, reading all the documents to pick out the ones that were relevant/that had been requested. Photocopying (annoying when involved hand written/non standard paper sizes, some stapled and so on). But it it what it is and I think it's right that there should be the capacity for people to ask to see documents. I do think that there should be a higher fee though.

EmmaC78 Fri 24-Nov-17 19:14:32

There is a limit on what they can charge which is set out in the legislation. A request that takes over 5 days does not have to be fulfilled and then anything less than that they can only charge a maximum of 10% of the cost so the £10 you paid will only be a fraction of the time it took.

When you paid the £10 they council should have given an estimate of the time it would take so you knew what the money related to.

To be blunt the FOI legislation is one thing I don't agree with. The time and money spent by public bodies complying with the these requests could be much better spent on delivering core services.

Doboopedoo Fri 24-Nov-17 19:37:48

Were you charged £10, OP? Because they should have made clear to you what the costs covered if it was an FOI request.
Authorities can charge a £10 flat fee for a subject access request under the Data Protection Act - the two often get confused.

ForalltheSaints Fri 24-Nov-17 19:38:55

FOI costs should be levied for other than information about you- why should journalists or someone with a grudge be allowed to have such information for nothing. My taxes should not be subsidising journalists or people who wish to use such information for political ends. At least the BBC acknowledges when this has been done.

BarchesterFlowers Fri 24-Nov-17 20:57:29

Subject Access Requests usually refer to your own personal data.

If you look for the authority's publication scheme it will tell you about the charges, they might have imposed a cap.

Authorities can refuse a request if it will cost too much in terms of time/staff costs (£450 from memory outside central government), but in my experience, they rarely do. I have never known one refused, even where a group of people have made themselves a nuisance by repeated requests from one authority.

cakesonatrain Sat 25-Nov-17 07:00:46

You could submit an FOI request about the actual costs incurred in answering FOI requests?

BarbaraofSevillle Sat 25-Nov-17 07:12:15

It's just covered by the general funds of the organisation. Public bodies receive income from Government, obviously the council has council tax and business rates income and many public bodies/councils have commercial income (eg you have to pay to get into some council run attractions, I work for a public body that offers commercial services to industry).

Income just kind of goes into one pot and then gets allocated as budgets. All public bodies will have someone/people responsible for FOI requests but for many it won't be their main job. I've worked on them on the past and provided information to other companies/organsiations or members of the public, despite my main job being in our commercial services division. Sometimes they have needed several hours of work, which would cost several hundred pounds if charged at our commercial rates. £10 is just a nominal fee, probably as someone commented on above, to stop members of the public making endless requests. Because some would.

And as well as most FOI requests costing more than £10 to deal with, in reality, it probably costs more than £10 to deal with that payment as there will be bank charges, admin time logging the payment, allocating it to the correct budget and providing reports on how many FOI requests have been dealt with, what the income was etc. It would be cheaper for the council to not take any money at all.

BarchesterFlowers Sat 25-Nov-17 10:08:04

Cakes, I hope you are joking 😳.

It is a problem for smaller authorities, a complete waste of time and money in many instances.

foiman.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/201607-parishcouncils.pdf

ShovingLeopard Sat 25-Nov-17 10:13:45

Transparency is critical for a democracy, and a higher fee would mean some people would not be able to afford to gain access to information that is available to others. I support the fee being low.

TheNoseyProject Sat 25-Nov-17 10:17:13

It’s just nominal to deter piss take enquirers. The cost before you can refuse an foi is high and it doesn’t take account of printing etc costs.

PerfectlyDone Sat 25-Nov-17 10:18:30

It does not come close to cover the costs.

And it is too small to deter piss-takers, sadly.

BarchesterFlowers Sat 25-Nov-17 11:27:16

Your publication scheme defines printing costs, i.e. 5p per sheet can be levied without the ICO requiring a limit. Of course it can be provided electronically free of charge.

Florence16 Sat 25-Nov-17 12:22:41

I work in the NHS. We get so many FOIs. I’m not sure people realise just how much taxpayer money it uses up. They’re all asking the same questions too, and a lot of the info is already in the public domain and/or just split out differently.

EmmaC78 Sat 25-Nov-17 15:48:45

Transparency is critical for a democracy

Sadly it is not used for these purposes in the main. A lot of the requests we receive are from commercial organisations looking for tender information other business information which is really not in the spirit of the Act.

ShovingLeopard Sat 25-Nov-17 21:19:39

Emma I think that is an inevitable side effect, but, while annoying, is not a reason to cut everyone else off from information. I say this as somebody who used to manage a team in a government agency, which used to deal with these quite frequently. They were time consuming and irritating, but part of what we did. The odd vexatious applicant would be told further requests would be ignored.

Regressionconfession Sat 25-Nov-17 21:26:45

Tony Blair says his biggest regret was introducing the FOI act!!!

BarchesterFlowers Sat 25-Nov-17 21:29:39

I think he forgets then Regression, he should have much bigger regrets!

ZestyDragon Sat 25-Nov-17 21:35:00

Under GDPR coming next year the £10 will be scrapped. No one will be charged for a data request from May onwards. A lot of businesses like us are expecting an onslaught of requests.

Rolf38 Sat 25-Nov-17 21:47:03

Hi everyone - I'm the OP.

I am a little confused by some of the responses on here. The data that I have requested is all about me personally. I didn't request anything to do with the council generally. Have I submitted an FOI request or a Subject Access Request and what is the difference between them?

EmmaC78 Sat 25-Nov-17 21:54:40

Yours was a subject access request. That covers personal data about you and £10 is the statutory maximum charge.

If you got 100's of pages of information i suspect you made a general request for all information held about you. It is more helpful for the authority if you can tell them specifically what category of information you are looking for so they don't waste lots of time and resources going through everything.

An FOI covers non personal information that the authority holds so statistics or copies of committee reports.

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