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Information Compliance

 
  1. Background
  2. Publication Scheme
  3. Right to information
  4. Who can make a request?
  5. What to do if you receive an oral enquiry
  6. What to do if you receive a written request
  7. Exemptions
  8. Charges
  9. Right of appeal
  10. Recommendations for Departments
  11. Alteration, erasure or concealment of records

This guide is designed to give University staff a brief overview of the FOI Act and to help them recognise and handle or pass on any requests that they may receive. Most FOI requests are sent to the University FOI Officer but there is no obligation for requesters to follow this accepted route which means that all staff should be alert to the possibility that they might themselves receive, and need to take action upon, requests.

Any questions should be directed to the University's Information Compliance Office.

1. Background

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 applies to all "public authorities" as defined in the Act, including the University of Cambridge. (Each Cambridge College is a separate public authority under the FOI Act.) It gives a general right of access to all types of recorded information held by us, sets out exemptions from that right and places a number of obligations on us. Under the Act a public authority has two main responsibilities:

  • production of a guide to the information it makes publicly available; and
  • dealing with individual written requests for information and providing the information if it is not already published, or exempt from release.

2. Publication Scheme

The University places a very wide range of information in the public domain already. As is required under the FOI Act, a guide to this information has been produced and itself published.

3. Right to information

The Act applies to any type of recorded information held by us irrespective of its date. Subject to exemptions, any person who makes a request must be informed whether we hold the information requested and, if we do, the information must be supplied promptly and in any event not later than 20 working days after the receipt of the request. The information must be supplied in a format acceptable to the applicant (so far as reasonably practicable); and there is a duty to provide advice and assistance to anyone seeking information. Where it is not immediately clear what the nature of a request is we can ask an enquirer for more details, though we do not have the right to ask the enquirer the purpose of their request. We are not required to provide any analysis or statistical information other than straightforward calculation.

4. Who can make a request?

Anyone, anywhere in the world. A request is free to make.

5. What to do if you receive an oral enquiry

Oral requests are not covered by the Act. If you are able to help in the course of routine business, please do so. If not, you may wish to advise the enquirer to contact the University's Information Compliance Office.

6. What to do if you receive a written request

Any request under the Act must be in writing. However, enquirers are not required to quote their FOI rights, nor as they obliged to follow the accepted route of contacting the University FOI Officer.

If you receive a written request for information and you are able to help in the course of routine business, or to direct the requester to the University's website, please do so promptly. If not, please contact the University's Information Compliance Office who will advise and will normally handle the request formally from that point.

If the request is by an individual for access information about themselves, it constitutes a Subject Access Request under the Data Protection Act 1998. Any such requests should be referred to the University's Information Compliance Office unless they are very straightforward requests that you would ordinarily supply.

In short, if:

  • you are unable to respond;
  • you do not know where the information is held;
  • it is not clear what the nature of the request is;
  • the information appears to be exempt (see section 7 below);
  • the request covers problematic or confidential information; or
  • the request is for personal information that falls under the Data Protection Act;

it should be forwarded to the University's Information Compliance Office.

7. Exemptions

There are a number of exemptions under the Act where we are not required to provide information requested. Some of these are ‘procedural’ (to do with the effort it would take to fulfil the request, or whether a request is repeated or vexatious); others apply because of the type or nature of information requested (such as personal information, information provided in confidence, or information reasonably accessible by other means); others apply because of the type or nature of information requested but are also subject to a 'public interest test' to assess the force of the exemption (such as information due for future publication, information which would prejudice the University's commercial interests if released, or information that would prejudice health and safety or police proceedings).

8. Charges

We have the right to charge 'disbursements' (photocopying and postage), but the University tends not to do so.

More importantly, we are under no obligation to provide information if the cost of doing so would be in excess of the 'appropriate limit', which is £450. In determining whether or not this limit would be exceeded, the University may take into account the costs attributable to the time that staff are expected to spend locating, retrieving and extracting information, assuming an hourly rate at a fixed rate of £25 per person per hour. Where the limit is exceeded, the University can decide not to provide the information or to answer and charge a fee. Any requests where this might apply should be handled by the University FOI Officer.

9. Right of appeal

Where a request for information is denied the applicant must firstly appeal internally before contacting the Information Commissioner. The Information Commissioner will then issue a Decision Notice with the ruling. Further layers of appeal exist through the Tribunal and court system.

10. Recommendations for departments

Departments may find it helpful to identify a member of staff to deal with FOI matters in order to provide a single point of contact for colleagues. An FOI request can be sent to any member of staff or any part of the University and it is therefore important that any such correspondence is recognised as an FOI request. The 20 working day response time starts form the receipt of the request wherever it is directed and so requests need to be recognised and passed on as soon as practicable.

11. Alteration, erasure or concealment of records

The Act makes it a criminal offence to alter, damage, erase, destroy or conceal any record once someone has asked for information with the intention of preventing all or part of the information from being released. These provisions do not prevent the routine disposal of information and in particular the amendment or deletion of information which would have been made regardless of the receipt of the request.