Agenda Item No.

 

THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN COUNCIL

 

CABINET: 1ST OCTOBER, 2018

 

REFERENCE FROM CORPORATE PERFORMANCE AND RESOURCES SCRUTINY COMMITTEE: 20TH SEPTEMBER, 2018

 

 

            CHARGING FOR INFORMATION (MO/HLDS) -

 

The Monitoring Officer/Head of Legal and Democratic Services presented the report advising that the Council could charge for making environmental information available to requesters and also referred to a proposed charging policy attached at Appendix A to the report.  Members were informed that the policy would also update the Freedom of Information Act charging process with the Monitoring Officer clarifying that the Council would not process requests that took more than 18 hours of staff time to complete.  The policy also updated the charging position on requests for personal information under the General Data Protection Regulations.

 

By way of background the report noted that information requests received by the Council were administered either under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 or the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.  Individuals requesting their own personal information were administered under the General Data Protection Regulations as supplemented by the Data Protection Act 2018. 

 

The Environmental Information Regulations defined environmental information extremely widely including air, atmosphere, water, soil, land, landscape, natural sites.  It also included factors such as noise, energy, waste, administrative measures and policies affecting same and the state of human health and safety.

 

The Regulations also provided that an Authority may charge a reasonable amount for making environmental information available.   As a result of a European Ruling public authorities could make a reasonable charge to include the costs of staff time taken to locate information and to put it in an appropriate format for disclosure, together with disbursement costs in transferring information to the applicant.

 

The majority of costs in processing Environmental Information Requests were for staff time and therefore the policy accordingly included this. It was proposed that the Council would charge for the time spent by staff in answering an individual request which would include time spent on searching for the information and putting it in the form required by the requestor.

 

There were some items under the Regulations that could not be charged for, namely access to public registers or lists of environmental information held or examination of the information in situ however in respect of the latter Authorities could still charge for locating the information to be examined in situ.

 

The costs associated with maintaining a database of information were deemed to not be related to an individual request and therefore could not be recovered.  Only a reasonable charge could be levied by the Authority and that charge must not have a deterrent effect or otherwise to prevent access to environmental information.

 

The Information Commissioner's Office had previously intimated that an administrative charge of £25 per hour for staff time in locating information was reasonable the provision for which had to be built in to any charging scheme.  Such charging arrangements required consideration of their potential detrimental effect given the economic situation of the person requesting the information and the public protection of the environment; this had been addressed in the draft policy whereby the Information Manager would be authorised to undertake the appropriate assessments.  It had also always been the case under the Freedom of Information Act that Authorities were not obliged to deal with requests that exceeded 18 hours in locating information.  However the Council could charge for information in excess of this. The policy clarified and proposed that the Council would not provide the information if it took more than 18 hours to process given the impact this would have on service delivery.

 

Members considered the report and the policy for charging for information to be a sensible approach.  Following a comment regarding paragraph 2 of the policy, the Monitoring Officer advised that the estimated time taken as calculated if it exceeded the statutory time limit of 18 hours the Council would not provide the information as it would consider that the resources involved in doing so would lead to such a diversion from its normal business activities that it could not be justified.  Staff would also be required to aggregate (total) time taken in respect of all related requests received within 60 working days from the same person or from people who seemed to be working together.  It was also important to note that no information would be provided until the costs had been paid.

 

In referring to requests for information under the Environmental Information Regulations, the Council would charge a standard cost of £25 per hour for dealing with all requests for environmental information.  Members suggested that this be amended to read ‘£25 per hour or part thereof’. 

 

Having fully considered the report it was subsequently

 

RECOMMENDED - T H A T the report and the policy at Appendix A to the report subject to the amendment that the standard cost of “£25 per hour or part thereof “ be included in the policy be endorsed  and referred to Cabinet  for final determination

 

Reason for recommendation

 

Having fully considered the report and the policy for charging for information and to seek Cabinet approval.

 

 

Attached as Appendix - Report to Corporate Performance and Resources Scrutiny Committee: 20 September 2018