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0 votes
Our small parish meets every two months and the clerk works 4 hours per week. An FOI request is potentially going to take an estimated 8 to 12 hours to process from start to finish. It is not possible for us to meet the 20 day deadline for a response (assuming the response means to provide requested information). It is likely that if the clerk focusses on the FOI request we will postpone council work and cancel the next meeting and APM. What to do?

Update, and some responses to comments:

The ICO confirmed the requirements of the Law and said we "should be resourced to respond to its requirements" - they were surprised about the 0.1 full time equivalent people being my staff! However, there is no leeway for a small public body. They did suggest keeping a diary in case we have problems and have to explain ourselves later!

The FOI Request is valid.  The publication scheme lists items that are accessible under the Act - it is not a replacement for the actual document/emails/letters/reports/etc. which are being asked for and have to be retrieved, reviewed, etc.

The Clerk has another job, so she is unable to provide additional hours. She is competent to respond to an FOI request appropriately. She is required to plan and organised the Annual Parish Meeting (required by Law to happen in May) and the follow-on Parish Council meeting. So rather than divert her, or break the Law, I decided to do the work myself.

The request proved to be relatively straightforward, even so I spent 340 minutes researching, extracting, collating and redacting the material prior to the final step of a quality/release review and sending the material to the requester. This means Parish work did not slip by over 5 hours (i.e. over a week!)

Just as well there was only one request! Anyway, thank you for your thoughts and suggestions.
by (120 points)
edited by

6 Answers

+1 vote
Couldn’t the Clerk be paid extra hours to cover this?

In any case if you don’t reply nothing is going to happen as the ICO has basically stopped working

I lodged a complaint with them last June about a failure to reply and a claim that some financial documents relating to an ongoing contract are no longer available but they haven’t done a thing as they claim there is a backlog
I was tempted to write to the ICO to ask them how many cases they have in the queue but I should imagine they won’t reply within 20 days in which case who can I report them to !
by (11.6k points)
See my updated question with my response. Thanks
0 votes
Is this a valid FOI request and does the council need to respond? The fact that FOI has been quoted doesn't automatically require you to provide the information. Are you able to provide any further information regarding the nature of the request and why it will take so long to process the response?
by (53.6k points)
See my updated question with my response. Thanks
0 votes
Be careful here, yes the ICO may be backlogged, yes there may be reasons to refuse, there may be valid reasons for requesting extra time, but.......

If the request is a valid one, then the law is clear on time scales and the ICO will (eventually) rule against the council if they have not followed the letter of the law, and that could result in a fine.

Your best course of action is to initially determine if it is a valid request and that you have to respond, if it is, then phone the ICO, they will give you the correct advice, which will stand up under scrutiny and despite what you may think they will happily give this advice!
by (2.2k points)
I’m not encouraging anyone to break the law all I’m pointing out is that there’s some slack in the system
The FOI is a wonderful piece of legislation and I’m sure a lot of bad practice is headed off at the pass because of it
The price we pay  it is that it is open to abuse by people bombarding the system
As far as I’m aware the  ICO is more interested in GDPR than failure to reply so at worst all that will happen is a ticking off
My Parish totally ignore it believing they can somehow override it using claims of harassment and so far they’ve succeeded
See my updated question with my response. Thanks
0 votes
How complex is the question?

Are ‘you’ making the situation more complex than it actually needs to be.
For a small PC there shouldn’t really be anything so complex as to warrant hours of work to formulate an answer.
by (6.4k points)
See my updated question with my response. Thanks
+1 vote
You need to establish the competence of your Clerk and whether or not your publication scheme is fit for purpose. If the publication scheme is fit for purpose and you post the relevant articles of it on your website, it should not be necessary to spend the time you quote on FOI requests. Each FOI response shoul simply refer the requestor to the publication scheme.
by (35.4k points)
See my updated question with my response. Thanks
0 votes
I think you may have mis understood my reference to the publication scheme.  The scheme tells you which information is available (Which I called articles) and where it can be found  (ideally a hyperlink) though a lot of schemes will just say "Council Website" or even  "Hard copy"
by (35.4k points)

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