From 1st January 2005, the Freedom of Information Act 2000 has given individuals a general right of access to all types of recorded information held by public authorities, subject to certain exemptions.
The Act is intended to promote a culture of openness and accountability and in turn a better understanding of how the Council (and other organisations) carry out their duties, why we make the decisions we do and how we spend public money.
Fylde Borough Council is a public authority for the purposes of the Act and any person who makes a request to the Council for information must be informed whether we hold the information and, subject to exemptions, be supplied with that information.
As part of the Act, we are required to adopt and maintain a Publication Scheme that sets out the ‘classes’ or type of information that we hold, the manner in which we intend to publish the information and whether a charge will be made for the information. The purpose of a Publication Scheme is to make publicly available as much information as possible without the need for a specific request to be made. It is our intention to publish as much information as possible on our website (and in other publications) and encourage a culture of openness and transparency.
The Publication Scheme
The Council has adopted the Information Commissioner’s scheme for local authorities. You can access it using the link on the right hand side of this article. The scheme outlines the type of information that we routinely publish and you will find that information published throughout the Council’s website. Some examples of the sort of information that is already published include:
- The Corporate Plan and other planning documents outlining the overall direction of the Council
- The accounts and budget information
- Planning applications
- Election results and contact details of councillors and officers
- Service information such as opening times, charges and standards
- Agendas and minutes of all council, cabinet and committee meetings
- Key strategy and policy documents and press releases
- Business Rates’ Datasets
How to make a Freedom of Information request
If the information you are after is not available via the Publication Scheme or published elsewhere, either on the website or in one of our publications, you can make a specific request for information and we will deal with it in accordance with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The Act says that requests must:
- Be in writing (this includes emails)
- State clearly what information is required
- State the name of the applicant, and an address for correspondence (which can be an email address)
Requests for Environmental information may be made verbally under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 but a written request is preferred.
The Freedom of Information Officer
Fylde Borough Council
Lytham St. Annes
What happens when I make a request?
When we receive a request for information, we will try and respond to it as quickly as possible. The legislation allows 20 working days from the day after the receipt of the request to respond but we will always try to provide the information as soon as possible. In some cases this can be on the same working day the request is received, or the next one.
Some kinds of information cannot be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act. Some other kinds can only be disclosed if it is in the public interest to disclose it. If any of the information that you have requested is not going to be disclosed, we will respond as soon as possible and give you a full explanation as to why not. If that happens to be the case, you will have two months in which you are entitled to ask us to reconsider our decision. If you then remain unhappy with our decision, you are entitled to complain to the Information Commissioner.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, we also have a duty to advise and assist customers that submit a request. If we do not understand your request, we will contact you to attempt to clarify what information it is that you want and help you put together the request. The more specific your request is, the less time it should take to process. Please see the Information Commissioner’s examples of good and bad requests.
What does it cost?
If you request information that is not contained within the Publication Scheme, we can make a charge in accordance with the fees laid down in the Regulations. The Regulations provide that requests for which “prescribed” costs will amount to less than £450 will be free of charge, although public authorities may charge for the cost of photocopying and postage etc…(known as “Disbursements” in the Regulations). Fylde Borough Council may apply charges for disbursements when the individual requires a personal copy of information that has been made publicly available. If there is a small amount required (30 pages or less) to fulfil the request it will be sent to the individual without charge, but copies in excess of this amount will be subject to a charge.
If your request is going to incur more than £450 in prescribed costs, the public authority can refuse to answer your request, choose to answer it for free, or charge up to and including the full cost of providing the response. Fylde will not normally provide information which will incur prescribed costs of more than £450 and your request will be refused.
What happens if my request is refused?
A request for information may only be refused by a public authority if it falls under one of the exemptions, or the fee exceeds £450 and no compromise can be reached with the customer to reduce this cost by, say, re-framing the request to bring it in under this cost. If your request is refused, the response will identify which exemption has been applied and provide you with details of your right to apply for an internal review of their decision to refuse. This review will be carried out by an officer of the Council who has not been involved with the request. If, after an internal review, the public authority still refuses your request, you may ask the Information Commissioner to review that decision.
How many requests can I make?
The Act does not specifically limit the number of requests you can make. However Section 14 of the Act states that a public authority can reserve the right to refuse any vexatious or repeated requests. This may include repeated requests from the same person for the same information, or requests which in our opinion are intended to disrupt the authority’s work.
How can I use the information I receive?
The Freedom of Information Act does not place restrictions on how the information supplied by an organisation may be used. However, the Act does provide for exemptions for commercially sensitive information, information intended for future publication or information related to investigations, law enforcement and court records. The Act does not transfer the copyright to any information supplied.
Can I ask for the information in a different format?
You may reasonably request for the information be supplied in any format. However, a public authority may take into account the cost of supplying the information in a format that is different to which the information is held before complying with your request. In particular, you may ask for large volumes of information in summary form, or for permission to inspect records containing the information.
It may also be possible for public authorities to supply the information in Braille or audio format, in large type, or translated into another language. Fylde will do everything it can to deal with any individual special need of this nature in accordance with our equality and diversity policy.
Exemptions under Freedom of Information
Listed below are the titles of the main exemptions within the Freedom of Information Act. You can access the full Act or the Information Commissioner’s website using the links in this page. We have divided the exemptions into categories based on the likelihood of them being applicable to the Council. One of the key exemptions (s40) is for personal information as this comes under the Data Protection Act which takes priority over the Freedom of Information Act because it is European legislation. We will not provide personal details of other people that we think it is not fair to them to disclose and if you wish to request personal details about yourself then you must do so under the Data Protection Act through a ‘subject access request’. The link to the Information Commissioner’s Office also provides further details about the Data Protection Act.