HANDLING FOI REQUESTS
This section provides answers to questions relating to the handling of requests for information made under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA). The bulk of the requests received by the University arrive by email via the FOI inbox (firstname.lastname@example.org). Governance Services co-ordinates the gathering of the information with help from the Faculties, Schools and Professional Services. Governance Services will then reply to the applicant on behalf of the University.
Links to all FAQs in this page are provided below:
What about routine requests for information we already provide?
You should continue to deal with these requests as you usually would according to your office procedures, however please be aware that 'business as usual' requests for information also carry rights and should be dealt with appropriately. Please refer to Governance Services if you have any queries or need guidance.
What happens if I receive an oral request?
Requests for information made under FOISA legislation should be in a recorded format, unless they are requests for environmental information, which are dealt with under the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (EI(S)Rs).
Oral requests do not technically count as FOI requests (please see note below regarding requests under EI(S)Rs). However, we have a duty to provide advice and assistance where an oral request has been made. This may involve responding to and helping to formulate a request by asking for further information or directing them to Governance Services. If you receive a voicemail message requesting information this would be classed as a valid FOI request as the request is in a 'recordable' form.
If colleagues receive any such requests and they are uncertain as to whether the request falls under FOI(S)A, they should either contact Governance Services prior to responding, or ask the applicant to contact Governance Services directly.
If you receive an oral request for environmental information please take the requestor's full contact details (name, contact details and preferred address to send the information to) and their questions or details of the information they require. Please email this to email@example.com to be logged and dealt with centrally.
Is an email request valid?
Yes, FOISA requests can be made by email, and indeed the majority of requests received by the University are made this way. The applicant is required to use their "real" name in the body of the message. The majority of FOI requests Edinburgh Napier deals with are received via email through the FOI portal - if you receive an email FOI request to your generic departmental or individual email account please forward these on to firstname.lastname@example.org, where they will be logged, co-ordinated and responded to by Governance Services on behalf of the University.
There have been instances where School/Professional Services colleagues have responded directly to an applicant. On such occasions this has been agreed in advance with Governance Services, who have provided colleagues with the necessary legal wording which needs to be included in our reply.
How specific does the request need to be? What is someone requests everything to do with topic 'x'?
The Act states that we are allowed to ask the requestor to clarify their request if it is too vague for us to deal with. We are not allowed to ask why the applicant needs the information. If a request is unclear, then please contact Governance Services and we will clarify the question with the applicant.
What happens to the 20 working day period if I need more information from the requestor to help me deal with the request?
If we need to ask the applicant for more information to help you identify and locate the information they want, the 20 working days begins once you have received their clarification. We should not however, seek clarification from an applicant 18 days after the request has been made in an attempt to extend the deadline. In such circumstances, we will then have only 2 days to respond once the applicant has clarified the request. Colleagues should notify Governance Services at the earliest opportunity if they feel additional time is needed in order to complete the request.
If colleagues believe that gathering the information is likely to take more than the statutory 20 days, then they should contact Governance Services in the first instance.
Is there a requirement to log requests coming in and the answers going out?
ALL requests for information made under FOISA which the University receives are logged centrally by Governance Services which enables us to provide accurate statistics to the Scottish Information Commissioner on a quarterly basis. There is no need to log simple everyday requests which are 'business as usual'.
What happens if I receive a request which asks me to release information but also provide some statistical analysis? Do I have to do this?
We are not obliged to create new information to respond to an information request, although an applicant can ask you to provide a digest or summary of the information. If colleagues receive an information request directly, they should notify Governance Services in the first instance.
What if I am asked to provide information which could be disadvantageous to the University, an external company or myself?
The Scottish Ministers' Code of Practice on the Discharge of Functions by Public Authorities under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 states that in deciding whether a disclosure is in the public interest, authorities should not take into account:
- possible embarrassment of government or other public authority officials;
- the seniority of persons involved in the subject matter;
- the risk of the requestor misinterpreting the information;
- possible loss of confidence in government or other public authority.
When external companies or third parties are providing information to the University they need to make it clear to us if any of the information they are providing is exempt under FOISA. Forms of wording for inclusion in contracts and other documents are available from Governance Services. 'Blanket' exemptions cannot be applied to whole documents - specific sections should be listed in an attached schedule, if necessary, listing the exemption applicable for each section / paragraph and the reason why the information is exempt. When inviting companies or third parties to provide information University employees should advise them that the University is subject to FOISA.
What happens if I am out of the office?
If you are out of the office for any length of time, you should make arrangements to make sure that any requests which you receive can be dealt with within the time limits. We would advise that you set up an automatic "out of office" reply telling people that you are away from the office and giving an alternative contact point for any requests for information for example advising applicants to write to email@example.com.
If a request is received while you are away from the office it must still be responded to within the statutory time limit of 20 days - it is therefore imperative that you provide potential requestors with alternative contact details to ensure they can re-direct their enquiry.
Is there a form of words we should use for out-of-office wording?
We would suggest that you include something along the following lines:
"Thank you for your message.
I am out of the office until ***. If your enquiry is urgent and you require a response before then please contact my colleague *** on 0131 455 **** or email ***
Alternatively if your email contains a request for information that you feel may fall under Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act please forward your email to firstname.lastname@example.org where your request will be dealt with centrally, or visit our FOI website at www.napier.ac.uk/foi."
Under no circumstances should you give other people your login details and passwords to check your emails while you are away, or give colleagues access to your email in-box.
If I have my out of office assistant on and it notified the person I was away and gave them another email address and they didn't forward it on would it be my problem?
Technically yes, but as long as you have set up your out of office assistant and provided at least one alternative contact address and your date of return it will be reasonable to expect the applicant to forward the request. However on your return you must check that the request has been dealt with.
What do I do if I come back to the office after 23 days and discover an FOI request in my inbox that has not been dealt with?
If you return to the office and discover a request that has not been dealt with, please contact Governance Services immediately to explain the situation and give them an estimate of when they will receive a completed response. Governance Services will approach the applicant.
How do we estimate the cost of a request?
If you feel that the response would be expensive to collate and answer, please contact the Governance Services. The threshold above which a request may become too expensive to answer is currently 40 hours. All requests involving fees notices are dealt with centrally.
Does the 20 days apply to internal requests too?
It makes no difference whether the person making the request is an employee of the University or not. The Act gives a general entitlement to receive information held by a Scottish public authority.
What format does our response have to be in?
We have a duty to respond in whatever format the requestor requests. We also have a duty to comply with the Equality Act 2010.
Is it still a 20-day limit if the document is to be changed into Braille or audio?
Yes, if the requestor has requested the information in another format such as Braille or audio we still have to respond within 20 days.
I automatically delete any emails where the address is unknown to me.
This is no longer an acceptable practice. An FOI request can come from anyone, anywhere in the world.
I get lots of questionnaires from various companies; does FOISA mean that I must complete them?
Strictly speaking, FOI legislation would mean that we would have to complete all questionnaires that we receive. Obviously this would mean a considerable amount of excess work, so please use your discretion in completing these types of sales questionnaires. If in doubt, please contact Governance Services.
Can a student request emails between members of staff discussing them and their work?
Yes, though this is likely to be available to them under their Data Protection Subject Access rights e.g. a subject access request. Staff must take this into consideration when writing emails and any other notes or correspondence - ALL recorded information is subject to the legislation and must be produced if requested. There is guidance on the Records Management and Information Services intranet pages about the use of, and language used in, emails. Any piece of recorded information from emails to post-its will potentially be accessible under the Freedom of Information legislation or Data Protection Act subject access rights.
Can a student ask to see coursework/dissertation marks and any comments made by the assessors?
Yes. A student has a right to see any comments made about the coursework/dissertation etc. Depending on what information is requested, it will either be treated as an FOI request or as a subject access request under the Data Protection Act. Governance Services will deal with these requests centrally with help from the Schools/Faculties and Professional Services. If the request is dealt with under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act, any information released will be Data Protection Act compliant.
What if the request comes in another language or format?
We have set up facilities for the translation of most languages and of Braille. If you receive what you think is a FOI request in another format contact Governance Services.
What if I want to refuse to give out the information requested?
If you believe that our University should refuse to release the information, you should put your concerns in writing to Governance Services for further consideration. Governance Services work closely with colleagues to ensure that we comply with the legislation and do not release any exempt information.
What should I do if I receive an email for Governance Services asking for information to respond to an FOI request?
- If it is in your remit to provide the information, please do so as soon as possible to ensure that Governance Services can respond within the statutory deadline. Often information is required from a number of different areas / colleagues, and this information then has to be collated and prepared for the response - so please bear this in mind (prompt responses are always appreciated!)
- Contact Governance Services as soon as possible if:
- you require any clarification, or you need other / additional information to assist you to provide the information
- you can't provide the information
- you can't provide all the information, but another department can provide some / all of it
- you can't provide the information by the date given
- you have any concerns about releasing the information
- the time taken to provide the information will be excessive e.g. it will take more than 40 hours
Further guidance and training
If you have any queries or need any further information please contact Governance Services.
Training is available online. The online module will take approximately 20minutes to complete.
Governance Services also run 'Information Governance Briefing' sessions every semester which cover FOISA, Records Management and Data Protection. These allow delegates to ask questions, get the most up-to-date information, network and learn from the experiences and questions of colleagues from all over the University. Bookings for the Information Governance Briefings are handled by Corporate Learning and Development and more information can be found on the Learning Events intranet page.