Freedom of Information Policy

Freedom of Information Policy 

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CHANCERY EDUCATION TRUST
DAVIDSON PRIMARY ACADEMY
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION POLICY
OCTOBER 2016

Introduction

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000 gives individuals the right to access official information from public bodies. Under the Act, any person has a legal right to ask for access to information held by the Academy. They are entitled to be told whether the Academy holds the information, and to receive a copy, subject to certain exemptions. While the Act assumes openness, it recognises that certain information is sensitive. There are exemptions to protect this information.
Chancery Education Trust recognises its duty to provide advice and assistance to anyone requesting information and will work in partnership with all its stakeholders in the spirit of the Act to ensure openness and transparent operation and communication in all its dealings.
This policy should be used in conjunction with the Academy’s Data Protection Policy.

Request to confirm or deny

Any request for information under the Act is called a request to confirm or deny. The Governing Body of the Academy is a presented public body for the purposes of the Act. In principle, therefore, anyone may ask the Governing Body for a copy of information which it holds. However the request can be addressed to anyone in the Academy; so all staff need to be aware of the process for dealing with requests.

Requests for information that are not data protection or environmental information requests will be covered by the FOIA: –

Data Protection enquiries (or subject access requests) are requests where the enquirer asks to see what personal information the Academy holds about the enquirer. If the enquiry is a data protection request, the Academy’s Data Protection Policy should be followed.

Environmental Information Regulations enquiries are those that relate to air, water, land, natural sites, built environment, flora and fauna, and health, and any decisions and activities affecting any of these. These could therefore include enquiries about recycling, phone masts, playing fields, car parking etc. If the enquiry is about environmental information, follow the guidance on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) website.

* Any request must receive a response within twenty days
* There is a duty to respond to all requests, telling the enquirer whether or not the information is held, and supplying any information that is held, except where exemptions apply.
* There is a time limit of 20 working days excluding Academy holidays for responding to a request
* Requests must be made in writing, (including email), and should include the enquirers name and correspondence address (email addresses are allowed), and state what information they require. There must be enough information in the request to be able to identify and locate the information. If this information is covered by one of the other pieces of legislation (as referred to above), they will be dealt with under the relevant policy/procedure related to that request.
* If the request is ambiguous and/or the Academy requires further information in order to deal with your request, the Academy will request this further information directly from the individual making the request. Please note that the Academy do not have to deal with the request until the further information is received. Therefore, the twenty day period will run from the time of the clarification of request.
* Verbal enquiries are not covered by the FOIA. Such enquiries can be dealt with where the enquiry is relatively straightforward and can be dealt with satisfactorily. However, for more complex enquiries, and to avoid disputes over what was asked for, you should ask the enquirer to put the request in writing or email, when the request will become subject to FOI.
* The Academy has a right in principle to charge a fee for the information, but it is unlikely that the time and effort needed to retrieve or provide the information would justify this. Refer to section on Fees or refer to www.gov.uk Academies and freedom of information, Departmental advice for academies January 2014 for more information

Information

Provided all requirements are met for a valid request to be made, the Academy will provide the information that it holds (unless an exemption applies).

“Holding” information means information relating to the business of the Academy:

* That the Academy has created; or
* That the Academy has received from another body or person; or
* Held by another body on the Academy’s behalf

Information means both hard copy and digital information, including email.

If the information is held by another public authority, such as the Local Authority, first check with them they hold it, then transfer the request to them. If this applies, the Academy will notify the enquirer that they do not hold the information and to whom they have transferred the request. The Academy will continue to answer any parts of the enquiry in respect of information it does hold.

When the Academy does not hold the information, it has no duty to create or acquire it; just to answer the enquiry, although a reasonable search will be made before confirming whether the Academy has the information requested.

If the information requested is already in the public domain, for instance through the Publication Scheme or on the Academys’ website, the Academy will direct the enquirer to the information and explain how to access it.

The requester has the right to be told if the information requested is held by the Academy (subject to any of the exemptions). This obligation is known as the Academys’ “duty to confirm or deny” that it holds the information. However, the Academy does not have to confirm or deny if;

* The exemption is an absolute exemption; or
* In the case of qualified exemptions, confirming or denying would itself disclose exempted information

Vexatious Requests

There is no obligation on the Academy to comply with vexatious requests. A vexatious request is one that is designed to cause inconvenience, harassment or expense rather than to obtain information, and would require a substantial diversion of resources or would otherwise undermine the work of the Academy. This however does not provide an excuse for bad records management.

In addition, the Academy do not have to comply with repeated identical or substantially similar requests from the same applicant unless a “reasonable” interval has elapsed between requests.

Fees

The Academy may charge the requester a fee for providing the requested information. This will be dependent on whether the staffing costs in complying with the request exceeds the “threshold.” The threshold is currently £450 with staff costs calculated at a fixed rate of £25 per hour (therefore 18 hours’ work is required before the threshold is reached).

If a request would cost less than the threshold, then the Academy can only charge for the cost of informing the applicant whether the information is held, and communicating the information to the applicant (e.g. photocopying, printing and postage costs).

When calculating costs/threshold, the Academy can take account of the staff costs/time in determining whether the information is held by the Academy, locating and retrieving the information, and extracting the information from other documents. The Academy will not take account of the costs involved with considering whether information is exempt under the Act.

If a request would cost more than the appropriate limit, (£450) the Academy can turn the request down, answer and charge a fee or answer and waive the fee.

If the Academy is going to charge they will send the enquirer a fees notice. The Academy does not have to comply with the request until the fee has been paid. More details on fees can be found on the ICO website.

If planning to turn down a request for cost reasons, or charge a high fee, you should contact the applicant in advance to discuss whether they would prefer the scope of the request to be modified so that, for example, it would cost less than the appropriate limit.

Where two or more requests are made to the Academy by different people who appear to be acting together or as part of a campaign the estimated cost of complying with any of the requests may be taken to be the estimated total cost of complying with them all.

Time Limits

Compliance with a request must be prompt and within the time limit of 20 working days (excluding Academy holidays). Failure to comply could result in a complaint by the requester to the Information Commissioner. The response time starts from the time the request is received.

Where the Academy has asked the enquirer for more information to enable it to answer, the 20 working days start time begins when this further information has been received.

If some information is exempt this will be detailed in the Academys’ response.

If a qualified exemption applies and the Academy need more time to consider the public interest test, the Academy will reply in 20 working days stating that an exemption applies but include an estimate of the date by which a decision on the public interest test will be made. This should be within a “reasonable” time.

Where the Academy has notified the enquirer that a charge is to be made, the time period stops until payment is received.

Third Party Data

Consultation of third parties may be required if their interests could be affected by release of the information requested, and any such consultation may influence the decision.

Consultation will be necessary where:

* Disclosure of information may affect the legal rights of a third party, such as the right to have certain information treated in confidence or rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights;
* The views of the third party may assist the Academy to determine if information is exempt from disclosure; or
* The views of the third party may assist the Academy to determine the public interest test

Personal information requested by third parties is also exempt under this policy where release of that information would breach the Data Protection Act. If a request is made for a document (e.g. Governing Body minutes) that contains personal information whose release to a third party would breach the Data Protection Act, the document may be issued by blanking out the relevant personal information as set out in the Redaction Procedure Appendix 1.

Exemptions

The presumption of the FOIA is that the Academy will disclose information unless the Act provides a specific reason to withhold it. The Act recognises the need to preserve confidentiality and protect sensitive material in certain circumstances.

The Academy may refuse all/part of a request, if one of the following applies:

1) There is an exemption to disclosure within the act;
2) The information sought is not held;
3) The request is considered vexatious or repeated; or
4) The cost of compliance exceeds the threshold

A series of exemptions are set out in the Act which allow the withholding of information in relation to an enquiry. Some are very specialised in their application (such as national security) and would not usually be relevant to a Academy.

There are two general categories of exemptions:

1) Absolute: where there is no requirement to confirm or deny that the information is held, disclose the information or consider the public interest; and
2) Qualified: where, even if an exemption applies, there is a duty to consider the public interest in disclosing information.

Absolute Exemptions

There are eight absolute exemptions set out in the Act. However the following are the only absolute exemptions that will apply to the Academy:

* Information accessible to the enquirer by other means (for example by way of the Academys’ website)
* National Security/Court Records; If there are any requests for information made by persons who may be subject to a court order and/or restraint of access to a child, or the person receiving the information for request for information is unsure as to the standing of the applicant, then the responsible person will either deal with the request or find out further information as appropriate before disclosure
* Personal information (i.e. information which would be covered by the Data Protection Act); No requests for information about other children will be acceded to according to policies already in place relating to data protection
* Information provided in confidence

If an absolute exemption exists, it means that disclosure is not required by the Act. However, a decision could be taken to ignore the exemption and release the information taking into account all the facts of the case if it is felt necessary to do so.

Qualified Exemptions

If one of the below exemptions apply (i.e. a qualified disclosure), there is also a duty to consider the public interest in confirming or denying that the information exists and in disclosing information.

The qualified exemptions under the Act that would be applicable to the Academy are:

* Information requested is intended for future publication (and it is reasonable in all the circumstances for the requester to wait until such time that the information is actually published)
* Reasons of National Security
* Government/International Relations
* Release of the information is likely to prejudice any actual or potential legal action or formal investigation involving the Academy
* Law enforcement (i.e. if disclosure would prejudice the prevention or detection of crime, the prosecution of offenders or the administration of justice)
* Release of the information would prejudice the ability of the Academy to carry out an effective audit of its accounts, resources and functions
* For Health and Safety purposes
* Information requested is Environmental information
* Information requested is subject to Legal professional privilege
* Commercial Interest reasons

Where the potential exemption is a qualified exemption, the Academy will consider the public interest test to identify if the public interest in applying the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing it.

In all cases, before writing to the enquirer, the person given responsibility by the Academy for dealing with the request will need to ensure that the case has been properly considered, and that the reasons for refusal, or public interest test refusal, are sound.

Refusal

If it is decided to refuse a request, the Academy will send a refusal notice, which must contain

* The fact that the responsible person cannot provide the information asked for;
* Which exemption(s) apply;
* Why the exemption(s) apply to this enquiry (if it is not self-evident);
* Reasons for refusal; and
* The Academys’ complaints procedure

For monitoring purposes and in case of an appeal against a decision not to release the information or an investigation by the Information Commissioner, the responsible person must keep a record of all enquiries where all or part of the requested information is withheld and exemptions are claimed. The record must include the reasons for the decision to withhold the information.

Complaints/Appeals

Any written (including email) expression of dissatisfaction should be handled through the Academys’ existing Complaints Policy. Wherever practicable the review should be handled by someone not involved in the original decision.

The Governing Body should set and publish a target time for determining complaints and information on the success rate in meeting the target. The Academy should maintain records of all complaints and their outcome.

If the outcome is that the Academys’ original decision or action is upheld, then the applicant can appeal to the Information Commissioner. The appeal can be made via their website or in writing to:

Customer Contact
Information Commissioner’s Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
SK9 5AF
Appendix 1 – Redacting Documents
When redacting released documents:
* Mask the passages that are not to be disclosed and photocopy
* Annotate in the margin against each blank passage, the exemption and section of the Act under which this passage is exempt; iii) explain in the covering letter that the relevant exemptions are marked in the attachments and in the case of non-absolute exemptions, how the public interest test has been considered
* On no account must you use the computer to rewrite the document or email and simply delete the exempted passages so that the resulting document appears as though they did not exist. The one circumstance where this would be permissible would be where the only redacted parts are personal information such as people’s names and the covering letter explains this
Links to other policies and statutory guidance:

* Data Protection Policy
* www.ico.org.uk
* www.Gov.uk -Freedom of Speech Act
* www.gov.uk – How to make a freedom of information (FOI) request
Monitoring and Implementation

  Name Date
Policy written by Barbara Rutherford 11/10/16
Agreed by Committee Lynne Dando 21/10/16
Adopted by Governing Body    
To be reviewed annually
Review by    
Review by Committee    
Adopted by Governing Body    

 

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