It’s about time

FOIMan highlights a change in the final version of the recently revised s.45 code that confuses rather than clarifies FOI deadlines.

Cabinet Office

Last November the Cabinet Office published a draft of a revised s.45 code of practice. I summarised the content briefly here on the FOIMan blog at the time, and later wrote a more in-depth piece for PDP’s FOI Journal, which you can read here. An even more thorough (and critical) analysis was produced by the Campaign for FOI in its response to the consultation on the draft code.

Back in July the final version of the code was published. Not a lot had changed but what had isn’t to be much welcomed. One particularly regrettable change simply adds more complexity to an already confused issue.

One matter of repeated debate between practitioners and those using the Act is the seemingly indisputable matter of when a request is received. This has caused particular confusion in relation to requests received by public authorities over a weekend or on any other non-working day.

In fact, it shouldn’t be a difficult question to resolve. The wording of the Act itself offers a clear solution. At s.10(6) it defines the ‘date of receipt’ as ‘the day on which the public authority receives the request for information’. Note that it talks of ‘the day’. Not ‘working day’, a phrase used elsewhere in s.10. So the day of receipt can be a Saturday, for example. The first working day – day one for the purposes of FOI – is the following Monday. This is the approach taken by the Information Commissioner in her guidance (see paras. 36-39).

What’s more, the draft of the revised code also followed this interpretation at paragraph 4.2:

The date on which a request is received is the calendar day on which it arrives… If a request is received on a non-working day, for example a Saturday, the next working day i.e. Monday, should be counted as “day one” towards the deadline.

But look what the final version says (with my emphasis in bold):

The date on which a request is received is the day on which it arrives or, if this is not a working day, the first working day following its arrival.

It is not clear why the approach was changed, but changed it was. The Cabinet Office’s final choice of wording potentially buys public authorities who follow it an extra day when answering FOI requests, yet appears to contradict the Commissioner’s guidance, and more importantly, the wording of the legislation itself. It will be left to the Commissioner and tribunals ultimately to decide which approach they think is correct if this is ever in dispute. I would suggest that it is most likely that they would plump for the wording of the legislation over what the Cabinet Office wishes it said.

Ultimately this is an argument over a day. And given that FOI also requires requests to be answered promptly, it is perhaps academic to a degree. But it does seem unfortunate that the Cabinet Office has chosen to sow yet more confusion over the interpretation of FOI, when it had an opportunity to provide clarity.


Get in touch if you would be interested in training on FOI, including the new code of practice. The new code is covered extensively in my forthcoming book The Freedom of Information Officer’s Handbook, which is due out in the next couple of months. Details on how to pre-order (and obtain a discount) can be found opposite.

3 comments

  1. John says:

    paras. 36-39 state the date of receipt can be a non-working day. However FOI’s are to be responded to within 20 working days of Receipt (but promptly). Now, the way this is worded looks as though if an FOI arrives on a Saturday, then that will be the receipt day and as such Day one of the request time; meaning by the Monday if this is the First Working Day then the organisation has in essence lost 2 days, this then begs the question “what about the following weekends?” if the response time is no later then 20 working days then the weekend the FOI arrives and all weekends between receipt and reply should not be taken into account.

    This is extremely simple to word. “The day of receipt is the first working day on or after the arrival of the FOI, therefore given the full 20 working days to respond”. If weekends do not count during the 20 working day period then they should not count for the receipt of the FOI. Its confusing for the sake of confusing.

  2. You are doing sterling stuff — thank goodness that someone is so motivated to cast a scrutinous monitoring eye on the creeping “Gestapo/KGB-like” predilection which Government quietly seems to edge towards! . . . Inexorable? . . . dear God, PERISH THE THOUGHT . . . !

  3. What’s makes this all the more confusing is that on the ICO website (https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-freedom-of-information/receiving-a-request)the guidance says :

    “Under the Act, most public authorities may take up to 20 working days to respond, counting the first working day after the request is received as the first day.”

    My interpretation of this has alsways been, if a request is received on a Monday, the first working day after that would be the Tuesday and so that’s when the clock starts !