Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), public authorities may have to release information held by them if requested to do so by a member of the public. There are, of course, limits to this obligation, one such example being that if the cost of finding and releasing such information is too high the authority can refuse the request. In ascertaining whether it is "too expensive", a fixed administrative fee of £25 per hour is set for finding and releasing the information and each authority will have its own cap on these costs (determined by legislation).
However, in a recent Information Tribunal appeal decision, the tribunal has narrowed the circumstances in which it will be considered too expensive for an authority to find and release information. The case concerned a refusal by the South Yorkshire Police (SYP) to provide information on illegal firearms recoveries. SYP cited the reason for refusing the request as being that it would take them too long to redact sensitive information from the relevant documents which would take them beyond their £450 administrative fee cap for complying with such requests.
The tribunal, agreeing with an earlier decision by the information commissioner, held that time spent redacting documents requested under the FOIA was not a relevant consideration in ascertaining whether a request was too expensive to comply with - in other words, it was irrelevant that the time taken performing this task meant SYP exceeded their costs cap. The tribunal did not believe the legislation intended to allow for time taken redacting documents to be considered as a reason for refusing a FOIA request.
This decision is in line with previous decisions on the issue and is something for local authorities to bear in mind when considering the "cost" to them of providing information under the FOIA.
The case referred to is The Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police v Information Commissioner (Information Tribunal Appeal Number EA/2009/29)
Click here for the case.