Guidance on Handling FOISA Requests for Information

Guidance on Handling FOISA Requests for Information

The  Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act (FOISA) is concerned with an individual's general right of access to most of the recorded information held by the University. If the request concerns information about an individual, then the Data Protection Act (DPA) may apply - see below.

The Section 60 Code of Practice: Functions under FoISA has been prepared by the Scottish Executive, in conjunction with the Scottish Information Commissioner, as a best practice guide on the handling of Information Requests. The Code places special emphasis on the need of the University to provide advice and assistance to Applicants.

General guidance

  • The Data Protection and Freedom of Information Office and your local FOI Coordinator are available to provide advice on any aspect of identifying and handling FOISA Information Requests.
  • All FOISA information requests must be handled as 'applicant-blind' -- the information request must be processed without considering the identity of the applicant. The identity of the applicant must not be made known to colleagues unless:
    • there is a valid reason, and
    • the issue has been cleared with your local Coordinator or the DP & FOI Office.
  • Exemptions to the release of information might apply. Advice on the use of an exemption must be obtained from your local Coordinator or the DP & FOI Office.
  • The response to any information request where an exemption is required, other that sections 17 (Information Not Held) or section 25 (Information otherwise accessible), must be handled by DP & FOI Office.
  • If the applicant is not satisfied with either the response provided or the way the request was handled, he or she may request a review from the University.
  • If the applicant is not satisfied with the results of the review, he or she may appeal to the Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner (OSIC). It is the policy of the Scottish Information Commissioner to publish full details of each appeal and her decision on the OSIC website.

Standard template letters and email texts

  • Standard template letters and email texts are provided by the DP/FOI Office, and recommended for communications with an FOI request applicant.
  • The standard templates cover:
    • Acknowledgment of receipt of an information request.
    • Seeking clarification as to the meaning and scope of the information request.
    • The final response of the information request.
    • Section 17 Refusal Notice - Information not held by the University.
    • Section 25 Refusal Notice - Information otherwise accessible.

Is the request covered by DPA or FOISA?


Is it a valid FOISA information request?

To be considered a valid FOISA information request, the response to the following three questions must be "yes":

  • Is the request in writing, via email, or other permanently recorded format?
  • Does the request include the name of the applicant and an address (postal or email) for correspondence?
    • The Scottish Information Commissioner has indicated that the applicant must give a real name, and that the University does not have to answer the request if a false name or pseudonym has been used.
    • If the request is by email, the applicant's name must be given in the body of the email. The name in the email address (e.g. john.smith@emailaddress.com) is not sufficient.
  • Does the request clearly describe the information required?
    • Only recorded information held by the University is covered by FOISA, and a request for an opinion is not a valid request.
    • The reason for the request is not relevant.
    • Clarification from the applicant must be sought when it is not possible to accurately identify the information needed from the original description provided.

What is the timescale for responding to an information request?

  • A 20 working days timescale is allowed for a response to a request, irrespective of the content of the request and/or whether the request is passed around between colleagues.
  • A "working day" means any day other than a Saturday or Sunday, Christmas Day, or a Scottish bank holiday as designated under the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 (c.80).
  • The 20 working day timescale starts from the receipt of the request by the University.
  • A request is not consider as received by the University, and the 20-day 'clock' does not start, until the request is deemed to be valid and no further clarification is required.
  • A request via email is received when it arrives in the University's email system.
  • An unread email has still been received by the University and the 20 working day 'clock' is already running whilst the email remains unread or is passed to a colleague to answer.

How do I seek clarification from the applicant?

  • If the request does not clearly describe the information required, the applicant should be contacted for further clarification.
  • Use the seeking clarification template letter.
  • While clarification is being sought from the applicant, the request is not considered "received". The response timeline begins once clarification is received.

Should an information request be acknowledged?

  • All valid FOISA information requests must be acknowledged.
  • Use the acknowledgement template letter to let the applicant know his or her request has been received, and when the response is due.

What format/media should be used for the response?

  • In most instances, the response to a FOISA request should be sent in the same format/media in which the initial request was received.
  • The applicant may specify the format/media required for the response. The University must attempt to honour that specification if it is technically and financially possible.
  • If the information request was submitted via post:
    • The response should be in the same format/media in which it was received
      • It may be preferable, for cost reasons, to suggest to the applicant the use of another format/media, such as a CD.
    • Use the template letter for a standard FOISA response.
  • If the Information Request was submitted via email:
    • The response should be sent as an attachment or attachments to an email.
    • A large volume of attachments may have to be sent in a series of emails.
    • It may be preferable for cost and volume reasons to suggest to the applicant another response format/media, such as a CD, which can then be posted.
    • Paper-only copies of documents should be scanned.
    • All attachments must be sent in PDF format and not as raw Word, Excel, etc files.
    • Use the template letter and email for a standard FOISA response.

Is the requested information already available/published elsewhere?

  • If the information is already available:
  • in the University's Publication Scheme, or
  • on the University's publically viewable web pages, or
  • in some other University publication, or
  • reasonably accessible elsewhere,

then the standard template "Refusal Notice - Section 25" letter must be used.

  • If the applicant cannot access the internet then the relevant information from the University's Publication Scheme or the University's web pages must be extracted and sent in an appropriate format/media.

Will the response to the information request be too costly?

  • The advice on calculating the potential costs must be followed.
  • It may be possible to reduce the costs by negotiation with the applicant over the scale and scope of the information request.
  • An information request that might require the payment of a fee must be referred to the DP & FOI Office, who will issue the necessary fees notice. 

What if the requested information not held by the University?

  • An applicant may request information that is not held by the University. In this case you must contact your local FOISA Coordinator or the DP & FOI Office for advice and confirmation.
  • A standard template "Refusal Notice - Section 17" letter must be used.

How is the use of FOISA exemptions decided?

  • A range of FOISA exemptions may, when appropriate, be invoked to refuse to release information.
  • Do not automatically withhold information that has been requested. If you think an exemption might apply, immediately contact your local FOISA coordinator or the Data Protection and Freedom of Information Office.
  • The response to any information request where an exemption is required, other than sections 17 (Information Not Held) or section 25 (Information otherwise accessible), must be passed to and handled by the Data Protection and Freedom of Information Office.