Staff guidance on handling requests for information

In the House of Lords most Freedom of Information requests are dealt with by the central FoI team. However it is important staff understand the process and the role they may be required to play in this.

A request for information must:

  • be made in writing (includes email or any other legible format capable of being used for subsequent reference). If you receive something that appears to be an FoI request orally (e.g. by telephone) you should point out that it has to made in writing before it can be treated as a formal request
  • state the name of the applicant and an address for correspondence (either email or postal address will do
  • describe the information requested

A request for information can be made by any individual or body, anywhere in the world. It is irrelevant whether or not the request mentions Freedom of Information itself. A request which makes no reference to the Act may still have to be treated as an FoI request. On the other hand, even if a request does cite the Act, it may be cited incorrectly and fall under another access regime (i.e. the Data Protection Act or the Environmental Information Regulations). Thus the onus is on us to correctly identify a request as an FoI request and act accordingly.

Most requests are sent by email to the Information Office or the FoI team directly, however if you think you have received a request you should consult your office “FoI Co-ordinator”, to ascertain whether the request falls within the scope of the FoI Act. If you remain unsure you should seek advice from the FoI team.

If you receive an FoI request in hard copy form, the “Receiving Office” should date stamp it, this is important at all times of the year but especially so during recess. The House has 20 working days in which to provide information that is requested, and the clock starts ticking from the day after the request is received (unless clarification of the request is required). The request should then be sent to the FoI Team. If you receive a request in an email this should be forwarded to the FoI team by using the [email protected] mailbox.

The FoI team will input details of the request into the Tracking database and determine what action needs to be taken in order to respond to the request and will inform senior members of staff where appropriate. The relevant staff in the office(s) will then be informed of the request, generally via the FoI co-ordinator and they will be asked to collate any relevant information held. It is important that information covered by the request is found and sent to the FoI team as soon as possible along with any concerns relating to its disclosure so that we are able to determine whether or not an exemption might apply.

If you have been asked to locate information for a request you should:

  • identify and retrieve all records which are relevant to the request (this includes checking office files lists, shared drives, e-mail and so forth)
  • consider whether any other office(s) may hold records relevant to the request
  • contact other offices as appropriate
The FoI team:
  • consider whether any exemptions apply and if so whether legal advice is required
  • consider whether the information coming within the scope of the request contains third party information and whether third parties need to be consulted and/or informed of the request and intended response

The FoI team:

  • consider whether any exemptions apply and if so whether legal advice is required
  • consider whether the information coming within the scope of the request contains third party information and whether third parties need to be consulted and/or informed of the request and intended response

The FoI team:

  • consider whether any exemptions apply and if so whether legal advice is required
  • consider whether the information coming within the scope of the request contains third party information and whether third parties need to be consulted and/or informed of the request and intended response
  • inform senior management, where necessary

If a decision has been taken to grant the request (in full), the FoI team or the person responding will assemble and release the relevant information requested, and include a covering letter or email to the applicant advising him or her of:

  • the decision
  • how they will be given access to the information requested
  • his or her right to an internal review of the handling of their request.

The FoI team will then:

  • record the decision and final outcome on the Tracking System
  • file a copy of the outgoing letter and copy of the information sent

If someone other than one of the FoI team have responded to the request a copy of the response should be forwarded to the FoI team

If the request is refused (in whole or part), the FoI officer will assemble and release any information which is not refused, and also write a letter to the applicant advising him or her of:

  • the decision
  • the reason(s) for refusal
  • any exemptions applicable, stating clearly why they apply
  • the application of the public interest test (where appropriate)
  • his or her right to an internal review of the decision.

The FoI team will then record the decision and final outcome on the Tracking System

What about requests for environmental information?

Information relating to the environment is accessible under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIRs) and not the Freedom of Information of Act 2000.

Applicants need not cite the EIRs in their request, it is for us to determine the correct access regime.

The only tangible difference in the EIRs is that requests may be made verbally rather than just in writing.  You should therefore be alert to this fact and if in doubt advice should be sought from the FoI team. 

Requests made under the EIRs are dealt with in almost exactly the same way as those made under FoI and staff should follow the same guidance should they receive a request they believe might be an EIR request.

In practice the distinction only becomes relevant if all or part of the request is to be refused. This is because although similar the exemptions in the EIRs are referred to as exceptions and we must be specify these correctly in our response. 

 

 

 

 

Related information

Information Commissioner

The Information Commissioner's Office is the UK's independent authority set up to promote access to official information and to protect personal information. Further information about relevant laws is available on the Information Commissioner's Office website.

 

Relevant legislation

The official, revised edition of relevant legislation can be found in the UK Statute Law Database through the following links

Records Management