Tag Archive for deadlines

Should Scottish schools have longer to answer FOI requests?

FOIMan discusses controversy in Scotland around allowing independent schools longer to answer FOI requests.

Campaigners south of the border must look to Scotland with envious eyes. Whilst the UK Campaign for FOI has to spend most of its time fighting for the status quo in the face of repeated attempts to water the UK Act down, the Scottish Government has recently extended FOI to certain private bodies providing public services – something many have called for at UK level but never achieved. Scottish campaigners and media aren’t happy though – they’re still pushing those boundaries.

The latest cause celebre is the Scottish Government’s planned regulations to allow independent special schools and grant-maintained schools covered by the Act to have more time to answer requests. Schools, of course, are pretty unique in that they tend to close during holiday periods. At UK level, regulations were made as far back as 2005 to reflect this. They have 20 school days or 60 working days (whichever is sooner) to answer requests (and yes, I know – they have to answer requests “promptly” and that these deadlines are backstops).

In Scotland it’s different for administrative and historical reasons. Public sector schools’ FOI requests are the responsibility of their local council. For this reason, the allowances made for schools across the rest of the UK have never been made in Scotland.

Now things are different though. The new independent sector schools that have been added to the Act’s coverage will have to answer requests themselves. Following consultation, the Scottish Government wants to address their concerns by making regulations more or less identical to the ones covering schools in the rest of the UK but just for independent special schools and grant-maintained schools that have been recently added.

This is being heavily criticised by the media in Scotland who are portraying it as dangerous backsliding on FOI principles. They argue that if this change is made for one part of the public sector, then it won’t be long before others call for the same exceptions.

Whether you share the Scottish media’s concerns or not will depend on your point of view. For the record, I haven’t seen much evidence that allowing all schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland longer to answer requests has led to other parts of the public sector begging for longer (they may take longer in practice but that’s another issue). But it’s got to be a good thing that campaigners in Scotland are able to marshal such support for FOI even whilst other issues dominate the headlines.

Sources:

Scottish Government consultation on new Time for Compliance Regulations

Scottish Herald editorial on the proposed changes

Christmas 2014/15 UK FOI Deadlines

FOIMan’s early Christmas present to you. A ready reference chart of FOI deadlines over the festive season.

foiman-santaWith so many Bank Holidays over the Christmas and new year period, it is easy to lose track of when responses to requests are due. Here’s my early Christmas present to FOI Officers and requesters alike – a handy ready reckoner.

Note that due dates take account of ALL UK Bank Holidays – a loophole in the Act means that Scottish Bank Holidays for example are not technically working days even in other parts of the UK, even if the authority is open for business on that day. Requesters should also note that many public authorities close for longer periods over the festive season, so whilst this doesn’t affect due dates, it is likely to reduce the likelihood of an early response.

And as it’s Christmas, bear in mind that staff absences, Christmas dinners, etc can make it especially difficult for public authorities to meet deadlines, so maybe allow a few extra days before grumbling… it is the season of goodwill after all!

Request received Response due Note
November December
17 16
18 17
19 18
20 19
21 22
24 23
25 24 LAST DAY TO SUBMIT REQUEST AND AUTHORITY OBLIGED TO RESPOND BEFORE CHRISTMAS
26 29
27 30
28 31
December January
1 5 1 December is a bank holiday in Scotland – does not count as a working day
2 5
3 6
4 7
5 8
8 9
9 12
10 13
11 14
12 15
15 16
16 19
17 20
18 21
19 22
22 23
23 26
24 27
29 28
30 29
31 30
January February
2 2 2 January is a bank holiday in Scotland – does not count as a working day
5 2
6 3
7 4
8 5
9 6

Note: public authorities are responsible for ensuring that they meet statutory deadlines – this is just my calculation of when I think due dates fall and I accept no responsibility or liability for authorities’ failure to meet obligations under the Act. Please do let me know though if you notice any errors with this guide and if I agree I will amend it.

 

Practically speaking, Part I – Deadlines

FOIMan brings you the first in a series of articles about the practical implications of FOI.

This year I’ve been writing a series of articles about the practical implications of FOI in PDP’s Freedom of Information Journal. Over the next few weeks, with PDP’s kind permission, I’m going to publish each article here. I’ll be continuing to write for the journal next year.

This week I’m publishing the first article in the series which covers the 20 working day deadline whilst referencing Douglas Adams and Lewis Carroll en route. Next week – Game, Dataset and Match – about… well, I’m sure you can figure that out.

UPDATE, 27 November 2013: my thanks to Ganesh Sittampalam and Lee Gardiner for highlighting an error in this article. On the second page (helpfully labelled p.4), second column, second paragraph, public authorities are not obliged to restart the clock once a request has been better defined – it will normally be the case that the newly defined request will be treated as a new request and the clock restarted at 20 working days. I’m sure that what I’ve said there made sense to me at the time, but right here and now I cannot recall what I intended. Apologies if anyone reading has been misled on this point.

January – the FOI Officer’s Hangover

FOI Man makes a plea for patience from those who made requests before Christmas.

January – it’s a hard month for all of us, isn’t it? Most of us have had at least a few days off over Christmas and new year, so getting into the swing of things is always tricky. And many of us have been lucky enough to have almost a fortnight away from the office. And then we come back to the darkest days, a pile of work and no holiday in sight.

SOAS, my own organisation, shuts down completely for the whole of Christmas week every year. Even if I wanted to I couldn’t be in the office to deal with FOI requests and other matters of a pressing nature. Some other FOI Officers will be in the same boat. And even when the office was open before Christmas, the availability of colleagues to answer queries and discuss how to answer requests was, as ever, in long slow decline during December. So even the welcome discovery that we have an unexpected extra day  is little consolation to the returning FOI Officer facing a rush of FOI deadlines, having lost the meat of the time allowed – between one and two weeks – to work on the requests.

Generally speaking, I’d advise any requester to avoid making requests during December if their need for a response is urgent. But if you did feel the need to submit an FOI request during December, please do retain a little festive goodwill and be patient – it may well take a little longer for some authorities to respond at this time of year, despite their best efforts.

I’ll be writing a regular column for PDP’s Freedom of Information Journal this year, and if you want to know more about how 20 working day deadlines work, my first article will be on that very subject. Watch this space!