Friday, December 16, 2005

Information Commissioner's Office

This reminder is on the ICO website: "Christmas Working Arrangements
It is not unusual for public authorities to provide only essential services between Christmas and New Year. This year, where this is done, a full service is likely to finish sometime on Friday 23 December and resume on Tuesday 3 January. Public authorities need to consider what impact this will have on meeting requests for information within statutory time limit as 28, 29 and 30 December are working days under the provisions of the Act. It will have an impact on any requests received from 28 November."

Complaints form

There is a standard complaint form for FOI/EIR complaints to the ICO available. Has been available since October, with aim of trying to formalise the process. I understand that some of the problems with resolving complaints are due to both parties not submitting all the relevant paperwork. In particular the complainant is now asked to provide suporting documents: "We will not be able to investigate your complaint unless you provide us with: A copy of your information request or, where this is not available, evidence that you made the request. If the public authority has replied to your request, we will also need to have copies of the following:

-A copy of the initial response and refusal notice from the public authority
-A copy of your request for an internal review
-A copy of the public authority’s internal review decision."

The use of the form is non-statutory, though I would advise anyone complaining to use it.

Richard Thomas spoke at the CPPS seminar I was at this week and I asked him about the approach to using information notices (see my previous post and update) . He stated the that approach had been one of negotiation as the first year was a learning process but he indicated a "readiness" to use information notices when relevant in 2006.

In cases where public authorities have kept poor quality audit trails and are slow to provide the ICO with all relevant background information use of an information notice may give the process greater urgency. This reinforces the importantance of having a tracking and co-ordinating system for FOIA/requests, the issue is not neccesarily about purchasing software but the need for aggreed processes and assigned responsibilities by decision makers and points of contact to document and record all signiciant actions related FOIA/EIR requests. I know of many smaller authorities who are managing to do this through clever use if excel or access. Also remember there are some free/low cost solutions that can be customised e.g Adam Pope's free FOI monitor and the datasmart product.

The DCA document: "Generic User Requirements Specification for IT Systems to Manage Freedom of Information and Environmental Information Regulations Enquiries" although written primarily for central government offers a comprehensive overview of what information should be captured (and in levels of priority) about FOIA/EIR requests. The ICO also provide a template verbal request log for EIR requests.

It worth noting that organising processes and the management of requests and knock on problems of delay are still a problem in many FOI regimes (the post I made yesterday about the US FOIA shows they are still tackling the problem after nearly 40 years of having an FOIA.)

No comments: