Freedom of Information Act 2000

Guidance for staff on dealing with individual requests under the Freedom of Information Act 2000

Advice-Guidance-2

1. Background

1.1 As from the 1st January 2005, the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) has given any person the right of access to all information held by Public Authorities. A public authority is defined as a body that receives public funding to carry out some or all of its work. All education establishments (except for nursery schools) are deemed to be public authorities.

1.2 People have the right to request any information from the University. The request must be in writing and can be addressed to any member of University staff but it does not have to state that it is being made under the FOIA. The University has 20 working days from the day after the request has been received (not opened) in which to respond to the request.

2. How is a request defined?

2.1 The way the legislation has been written, that is, that a person is not required to state that their request is made under the FOIA, means that any request for information should be treated as a request made under the FOIA. Whilst in practical terms many of the requests the University receives will be the same as they were before the FOIA came into force, all requests must now be answered within 20 working days.

2.2 For a request to be considered under the FOIA it should:-

  • be made in writing - emails and faxes are acceptable;
  • state the name of the applicant and an address for correspondence, and;
  • describe the information requested.

2.3 However, not all requests will need to be dealt with in the same way. Any request that can be answered easily by, for example, sending a copy of the course prospectus, or with little effort on behalf of the department, can be dealt with in the appropriate way without referral to Corporate Governance. This is termed a "simple" request.

2.4 There will be, however, requests that are more complex in nature. For example, it may be necessary to find out information that the University holds but which it may not make freely available, or it may also include decisions on whether information can be released. These requests will need to be referred to the Information Disclosure Team, and are termed as "complex" requests. The Information Disclosure Team will alert the Vice-Chancellor and the Director of Corporate Governance, as appropriate.

3. Handling the receipt of a request

3.1 All correspondence received in departments must be date-stamped.  Where an email is received, the date is automatically recorded.  However, if the email is printed out, you should ensure that the print out includes the date the email was received.

3.2 All staff should have a system where both their letters and their emails can be monitored if a person is absent from the University for more than 2 working days. This is because the 20 working days in which a request must be dealt with begins with the day after the request is received in the University, not the day it is opened or read. Therefore, post or emails cannot go unread whilst someone is on holiday as there is a good risk that the timescale for replying could have expired by the time the request is read.

3.3 Out Of Office Replies.  It is not sufficient, in the case of an email, just to state in an automatic reply that the email will be dealt with on your return from leave as, by that time, the request will have been received; the 20 working days clock will have started, and some days will have been wasted. Therefore, any automatic reply should not only state that a person is unavailable, but should also state to whom the request should be passed. In this way, until the requestor sends a second email to the person named in the automatic reply, the email has not been received.

4. Dealing with a request

4.1 Simple requests can be dealt with in departments and so should be treated as any other piece of correspondence. The University has a Publication Scheme that contains a lot of general information about the University. If the information requested is on the Publication Scheme, enquirers can be directed to the Scheme for the information they require (www.port.ac.uk/foi).

4.2 If a request is made over the telephone, and it appears to be a simple request, then the information should be provided anyway. Although the legislation states that a request should be in writing, the spirit of the legislation is to allow access to information, which we might prevent if we insist that the request is made in writing. However, if it appears from the call that the request is a complex one, then the caller should be asked to make their request in writing to ensure we have all the relevant details to help in answering the request.

4.3 All complex requests should be sent to the Information Disclosure Team in Corporate Governance, University House.  

4.4 Complex requests will then be dealt with by the Information Disclosure Team with information from the appropriate departments. Copies of the reply sent will be passed to all appropriate departments for information.