Freedom of Information and fighting for your hours…

11Nov10

Yesterdays post on ‘line to take’ documents outlined how knowledge of internal procedure can help your FOI request ask the right questions first-time off, but there are still certain situations in which public service organisations refuse to fulfil the duties outlined by the Freedom of Information Act.

This Freedom of Information request written by Rebecca Lawson is the perfect example of having to fight for your rights when it comes down to what you are allowed to ask for, with the organisation in question (Liverpool City Council) initially refusing to provide sufficient amounts of information and then sending over the information in unsuitable and unacceptable formats.

Upon being refused data from 2002 to today because of the effort involved, a data set starting from 2008 was agreed. However, as you can tell from Rebecca’s response on June 23rd, the full data set asked for was not sent, with Liverpool City Council claiming that ”this work would take in
excess of the 18 hours identified in the Freedom of Information Act and
Data Protection Act (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations 2004”.

This, as Rebecca identifies, is not true because the software used (EcoWarrior, identified in a separate FOI request also on Whatdotheyknow) enables the data to be compiled and sent in electronic format “within a few seconds or, at worst, a handful of minutes”.

This provoked the response that should have arrived in the first place; a complete data set. However, there were further problems to contend with. Asking for the raw data means that it should be sent in Excel format (or similar) and as it obvious in the September responses that this was not the case. Rebecca correctly questioned and fought for the raw data and stated that this was both the obvious and the requested form for the information to be sent in.

Liverpool City Council finally responded with the correct data in the correct format, in full.

There are two main points to take from this exasperating experience; firstly, that it is important to ask what software is being used to formulate and collect the data if it is said to be in excess of the 18 hour limit (26 hours for central government) so as to deduce where the time will be being spent. It is another question an authority is required to answer and can be the difference between paying and not paying for the information requested.

Secondly, push for the raw data, as it is completely within your rights to request this where possible. PDFs or scans, of whatever quality, are not a sufficient replacement for the raw data and should not be accepted as such, so put your foot down.

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