Freedom of Information
The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act came into force on 1 January 2005. The Act aims to increase openness and accountability in government and across the public sector by ensuring that people have the right to access information held by Scottish public authorities. People will be able to see and question how such bodies function and how decisions are made.
Who does it apply to?
The Act applies to practically all public bodies in Scotland, including local authorities, the NHS, Colleges and Universities, the Police, the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive. The Act also applies to companies wholly owned by a public authority and, if designated, it may even apply to private companies carrying out a function for a pubic authority, for example under a contract. A full list of the organisations affected is set out in the Act and the Scottish Ministers can add further bodies.
What does Freedom of Information mean to NHS Fife?
NHS Fife has developed a publication scheme so that the public can see what information we hold. The purpose of a publication scheme is to provide information proactively in an easily accessible form, so that people can access it without having to make an individual request. The scheme sets out what classes of information we publish, or intend to publish, how the information is made available and whether there is a fee for the information. It doesn’t matter how old the information is or why it was created, if we hold the information we will have to give access to it, provided that an exemption does not apply.
Good records management practices will assist us with meeting our duties under the Act . If records are easy to locate, for example, then requests can be dealt with quickly. The NHS Fife Records Management Policy (GP4) provides guidance on the keeping, management and destruction of records, both paper based and electronic, and can be found on the NHS Fife staff intranet and NHS Fife website.
How is a request made?
- Anyone, anywhere can make a request for information and will be entitled to receive it, provided no exemptions apply.
- The request can be made by an individual or an organisation and does not have to be made by someone in Scotland.
- Authorities are only obliged to provide recorded information, such as reports, documents, printed notes and videos.
- Requests must be made in writing or in another permanent form.
- Requests must state the name and address of the applicant and describe what information is required.
- Authorities may charge a fee in accordance with Fee regulations. There is no need to cite the Act or explain why information is being asked for.
- How we handle a request.
We are obliged to help anyone who proposes to make a request for information. All requests should be dealt with promptly and in any case within 20 working days. We can ask for more details in order to identify the information requested. We are not obliged to comply with a request if an exemption applies, or the cost of doing so would exceed the amounts set by the Fee Regulations, or we do not hold the information. In the event that a member of staff is approached for information and they are not sure how they should respond, they should refer the person to the Head of Corporate Services.
In any of these instances, we must notify the applicant. If the applicant is dissatisfied with the way their request is dealt with, they can ask us for a formal review. If following that review the applicant remains dissatisfied, they may appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner.
How does Freedom of Information fit with other initiatives?
Even prior to the act coming into force, there are some rights to access information. Some rights continue to exist while others are superseded by the Act. Non-statutory codes that now provide access to information will cease to apply. The Access to Environmental Information Regulations 1992 will continue to apply. These give rights of access to environmental information. A request for environmental information does not have to be in writing and can be made orally. We have to respond to the request within 2 months, and may charge for this information.
Can information always be accessed?
No, there are exemptions in the Scottish Act but most of these are not designed to be applied on a blanket basis. Two types of exemptions exist — absolute and non-absolute.
If an absolute exemption applies, we do not have to release the information eg. confidential material.
If a non-absolute exemption applies then we will have to apply a public interest test to establish whether the information should be released.
How does Freedom of Information fit with Data Protection?
The Data Protection Act 1998 aims to secure individuals’ right to privacy by protecting information that is held about them. When handling personal data, we must comply with the data protection principles, which control how such data is processed. When FOI legislation comes into force a request by an individual for information about themselves will be exempt under Freedom of Information, and will continue to be handled under Data Protection.
What happens if we do not provide information?
The Scottish Information Commissioner will enforce the Act. The Commissioner has a wide variety of powers under the Act to ensure compliance and we could be found in contempt of court if we fail to comply with a notice issued by the Commissioner. The Commissioner is a fully independent public
official. His duties and legal powers should ensure that people ge the information from Scottish public authorities to which they are entitled.
He has a number of responsibilities that include: dealing with complaints, promoting good practice to authorities, informing the public about the Act and enforcing the Act. Although the Information Commissioner is primarily responsible for overseeing he Act, there are a small number of occasions
when the courts may become involved. It is a criminal offence for anyone to destroy or erase information after a request has been received with such cases being dealt with in the Sheriff Court, and the offence carries a fine of up to £5000.
What does it cost?
NHS Fife may charge for handling a request, however requests that would cost us up to £100 to deal with will not normally be charged for. There will be a maximum limit of £600, beyond which we are not obliged to provide information.
If the required information cannot be found, please contact
Head of Corporate Services
Introduction to Freedom of Information
A short animated guide setting out how freedom of information (FOI) rights can be used to access information from public authorities in Scotland - and what you can do if the information is refused. For more information visit www.itspublicknowledge.info.
Do it Online
For more information contactNorma Aitken, Head of Corporate Services
Tel: 01592 643355 Contact Norma Aitken online
By Post: NHS Fife, Hayfield House Hayfield Road Kirkcaldy Fife KY2 5AH