New approach to FOI enforcement begins to bite

The Scottish Information Commissioner, responsible for issuing decisions on Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, is increasingly using additional powers to take tough action against failures by public authorities.

The Commissioner’s Annual Report, published today, reveals that the Commissioner used the power to issue Enforcement Notices for the first time last year, issuing six Enforcement Notices against public authorities during 2016/17.

Enforcement Notices compel authorities to take steps to comply with FOI law. They are a strong power for the Commissioner, and are used as a last resort only when working with the authority and taking other enforcement steps have not worked.

The Commissioner also recorded 320 “interventions” against public authorities. “Interventions” are action taken by the Commissioner’s staff to address issues in public authorities’ FOI practice. Though most of the Commissioner’s interventions addressed one-off or minor issues, 15 concerned serious, consistent and ongoing failures to comply with FOI law and guidance.

Acting Commissioner, Margaret Keyse, said:

“We monitor authorities’ FOI practice and take steps to improve that practice where it’s not good enough.

The Commissioner has always issued decisions on appeals brought by requesters who are unhappy with how their information request has been handled. We continue to do that. What’s new is the more proactive work we’re doing on interventions, and our first ever use of the power to issue Enforcement Notices.

Our first action is always to alert authorities to any concerns and to offer advice. Most will quickly resolve any issues. But where authorities don’t, or can’t, respond, we have to intervene, using the Commissioner’s strong enforcement powers, because it is our responsibility to protect the public’s legal right to information.”

The 2016/17 Annual Report also shows that:

Public awareness of the right to ask for information remains at its highest ever level, 85%.

Public authorities reported receiving 74,213 information requests across the year.

The Commissioner received 425 appeals in 2016/17 from people who were unhappy with how a public authority had handled their request for information.

The Commissioner’s full Annual Report and Accounts for 2016/17 can be read at: