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Freedom of information requests - fees and charges

Fees and charging policy

Data Protection, Freedom of Information, and Environmental Information.

Scope of policy

This policy applies to the levying of fees and charges in relation to information access requests received by the council falling under:

Legal background for charges

Under Section 12 of the Freedom of Information Act a public authority is not obliged to comply with a request for information if the authority estimates that the cost of complying with the request would exceed the 'appropriate limit' prescribed in the regulations. The Freedom of Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations 2004, identify the 'appropriate limit' of fees and charges the council is permitted to levy in response to requests made under Freedom of Information. This also applies to requests for 'unstructured' personal information under Section 9A of the Data Protection Act 1998 (inserted by section 69 of FOIA).

There is no 'appropriate limit' to the cost of complying with requests for environmental information. However, Regulation 8 of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, provides for the recovery of 'reasonable' costs.

The ‘appropriate limit’

Under Regulation 4 of the Freedom of Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations 2004, the 'appropriate limit' is set at £450 for Local Authorities.

This is calculated on a standard rate of £25 per hour based on estimating the staff time taken to:

  • determine if the information is held
  • locate the information or a document which may contain the information
  • retrieve the information, or a document, which may contain the information
  • edit or extract the releasable information contained within a document

This calculation does not take into account the time spent/costs of:

  • checking that a request for information meets the requirements of FOIA
  • considering the application of exemptions; prejudice and/or public interest tests
  • obtaining internal or external legal advice
  • consulting with third parties and obtaining authorisation to send out information

Based on the standard hourly rate of £25 specified in the FOIA Fees Regulations, the maximum amount of staff time spent finding, retrieving, collating and editing before exceeding the £450 cost limit is 18 hours.

Charges made under EIR may not exceed the 'actual costs of producing the information' unless the public authority is entitled to levy a market-based charge for the information.

No charges can be made for allowing an applicant to:

  • access to a public register or list of environmental information
  • examine the information requested at the place which the public authority makes available for that purpose

Under both FOIA and EIR, the actual costs of communicating information released to the applicant are recoverable. This includes the cost of printing, photocopying, postage and/or supplying the information in a particular form.

Estimating the cost of an information request

FOIA information requests

The council makes information available through its publication scheme. Most information in the scheme is available free of charge. Where charges apply, they will be indicated in the scheme.

The Freedom of Information Act is intended to build on existing access channels rather than replace existing access regimes. Therefore, if information is reasonably accessible to applicants through other means, such as through other legislation or the council’s publication scheme, it is exempt from FOIA. Where information is otherwise available, this means the rules for costing and charging for compliance with the act do not apply.

For information that is not otherwise accessible, if it is estimated that a request will take less than 18 hours to complete and there is no reason to withhold the information, the request will be dealt with free of charge except for disbursement costs (see section 7).

If it is estimated that such a request will take more than 18 hours to complete, the council is not obliged to comply with the request and will normally turn down requests exceeding this limit. Applicants will be helped to make the request smaller and more precisely focused.

Time limits and charging

If disbursement costs apply for responding to an FOI request under the ‘appropriate limit’ an estimated Fees Notice will be issued. Once the Fees Notice has been issued, the clock stops and the applicant has three months to pay the charge. The request lapses after 3 months if the charge remains unpaid. Only when payment has been received and has cleared does the clock restart and work begin on collating the information.

The Fees Notice will usually be issued, if possible, before any costs are incurred in preparing to answer the request. If a charge applies, the estimated fees and/or costs of supplying the information, will be payable in advance.

EIR information requests

Environmental information will be available for examination on council premises free of charge. If the applicant requests copies of the information, photocopying and disbursement costs will apply.

Aggregating requests

The FOIA Fees Regulations provide for the costs of answering more than one request to be added together or aggregated for the purposes of estimating whether the ‘appropriate limit’ would be exceeded in relation to any one of the requests. Requests can only be aggregated in the following circumstances:

  • two or more requests for information must have been made to the same public authority
  • they must be either from the same person, or from different persons who appear to the authority to be acting together or in pursuance of a campaign (section 12(4)(b) of FOIA)
  • the requests must relate to the same or similar information
  • they must have been received within a space of 60 consecutive working days. This provision is designed to prevent individuals or organisations undermining the ‘appropriate limit’ by splitting a request into smaller parts. Before applying these provisions, the council will carefully consider the reasons for believing that requests have been framed to frustrate the cost limit.

Repetitious/vexatious requests

In considering whether to refuse to answer multiple questions altogether on the grounds that they are repetitious or vexatious requests, the council will take account of the Department of Constitutional Affairs' procedural guidance.

Communicating information – disbursement costs

Irrespective of whether the request is below or above the ‘appropriate limit’, disbursements will normally be charged where the estimated photocopying cost exceeds the cost of five A4 black and white photocopies, or one A4 colour photocopy.

Under Section 11(1) of the FOIA, authorities have a duty to take account of the applicants’ preferred format for receiving information. This may include:

  • summarising the information and providing the applicant with a copy (i.e. photocopying or printing)
  • allowing the applicant to inspect a record containing the information
  • producing material in an applicant’s preferred format (for example by putting it onto a CD-ROM, video or audio cassette)
  • translating information into a language other than English, or preparing information in another format (e.g. Braille, large type) at the request of the applicant

The council will not apply charges for costs incurred arising from meeting our obligations under disability or other equality legislation.

Postage and printing costs

Applicants may be expected to meet the postage costs. The cost of an A4 photocopy or printed sheet will be charged at 10p for black and white and 50p colour per A4 sheet and postal costs will be based on current Royal Mail charges.

Other costs

The council is committed to the use of electronic means to provide information that has been requested, and will encourage and advocate the use of these means in all appropriate cases, subject always to the stated preference of the applicant. Normally, information supplied electronically will not involve a cost unless hard copy information has been specifically converted for this purpose.

Other or additional costs (to postage and printing charges) incurred as a result of communicating information in a way requested by the applicant where the overall amount exceeds £1.00, may be payable. This includes, but is not limited to, requests to supply information on CD ROM; floppy disc; another medium, or in a language other than English.

Review of charging policy

This policy will be reviewed annually in conjunction with the annual review of the Publication Scheme.

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