Third sector organisations feel discouraged from making Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to public authorities financing them because of the fear of funding cuts, a research paper from the University of Strathclyde illustrates.
Many charities and third sector bodies are carrying out services under contract with public authorities. The study shows that 49% of respondents claimed that they would be less likely to make an FOI request because of concerns that it would harm working relations or funding relations, and of those that were concerned about the impact on working relations, 80% believed that there was an additional risk that funding relations would be damaged.
In addition, 47% of respondents would be reluctant to seek a review of a rejected request, again because of the fear of the negative effect on working or funding relations. Also, of those respondents who had made a request and had it rejected, over 38% indicated that they were not made aware of their right to have a review of the decision in the first instance.
In some cases (13%), organisations made an FOI request through a third party. While more than half of these respondents did this to make use of the third party's expertise, some of the respondents were attempting to avoid conflict with the public authority. Several respondents to the survey also stated that the public authority involved had been "apparently offended" by the request made.
Whilst the report indicates that most requests (around two-thirds) are accepted by authorities, the statistics demonstrate some of the potential barriers to the effective operation of the FOI procedures in practice. MacRoberts frequently encounters many of the issues raised in this study, both from advising organisations and individuals making FOI requests, and from advising clients who receive them. Whilst this study focused on third sector organisations, it is nonetheless evident that any party to a contract involving a public authority may encounter some of these issues.