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Information Compliance

 
  1. Background
  2. Publication Scheme
  3. Individual requests
  4. Who can make a request?
  5. What to do if you receive a verbal request
  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 an overview of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 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.

 

1. Background

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) 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 FOIA.)  It gives a general right of access to all types of recorded information held by public authorities and sets out exemptions from that right.  A public authority has two main responsibilities under the FOIA:

  • producing a guide to the information it makes publicly available

  • 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 FOIA requires the University to adopt a Publication Scheme. This details the categories of information made available on a routine basis.  The University has adopted the latest Model Publication Scheme produced by the Information Commissioner, the independent authority responsible for compliance with the FOIA.  A Guide to Information has been produced in accordance with the Information Commissioner's Definition Document for Universities and other Higher Education Institutions.

 

3. Individual requests

The FOIA provides a general right of access by an individual to the information held by the University.  Any person wishing to exercise this right must make their request in writing.  The University must state whether it holds the information and, subject to any applicable exemptions and to the levying of any charges as permitted under the FOIA, must normally supply the information within 20 working days.  The information must be supplied in a format acceptable to the applicant (e.g. by email or in hard copy) so far as reasonably practicable. The University also has a duty to provide reasonable 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 a verbal request

Verbal requests are not covered by the FOIA.  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 written request (including by email) for information that exists in some way is likely to be covered by the FOIA.  Most FOI requests are sent directly to the University FOI Officer but there is no obligation for requesters to follow this accepted route, or to quote their FOI rights, which means that all staff should be alert to the possibility that they might themselves receive, and need to take action upon, requests.

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 information published on 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 to information about themselves, it constitutes a 'subject access request' under data protection legislation. Any such requests should be referred to the University's Information Compliance Office unless they are very straightforward requests for information 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 request covers problematic or confidential information that appears to be exempt (see section 7 below)

  • the request is for personal information about the requester that falls under data protection legislation

  • the request is for personal information about other people

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

 

7. Exemptions

There are a number of exemptions under the FOIA 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 about others, 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 first 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.  As described above, most FOI requests are sent directly to the University FOI Officer but there is no obligation for requesters to follow this accepted route, or to quote their FOI rights, which means that all staff should be alert to the possibility that they might themselves receive, and need to take action upon, requests.  Having a departmental point of contact in the first instance can facilitate the prompt handling of requests.

 

11. Alteration, erasure or concealment of records

Staff should note that is 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 under FOI.  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.