Clash over regulator’s support for FoI charging

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OSCR's headquarters in Dundee.

FoI charging sits ill with regulator's attempts to promote transparency in public life, say campaigners

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16th August 2019 by Graham Martin 2 Comments

Freedom of Information campaigners have expressed concerns about the stance taken by Scotland’s charity regulator on charging for FoI requests.

As reported by TFN this week, in a submission to the Scottish Parliament, OSCR said public bodies demanding a fee for some requests would deter individuals from “misusing” FOI for their personal benefit.

The regulator said it supported the overall aim of FOI in ensuring public bodies are open and accountable, but current legislation made it too easy for people to make requests that did not serve the public interest.

However, the Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland (CFoIS) has said this sits ill with OSCR’s attempts to promote transparency in public life.

Writing for TFN, Carole Ewart, the convener of CFoIS, says: “The attitude expressed by OSCR in its submission to the Scottish Parliament is an interesting read. 

“It sits uncomfortably with its apparently separate strand of work on changing charity law “to enhance public trust and confidence by increasing transparency””.

Ewart continues: “OSCR seeks a change in the legislation that would allow public authorities to charge for time spent reading and considering information. 

“It fails to understand that is a duty of a designated body, the price of being accountable.”

She added: “It complains about the staff time and expertise spent dealing with information requests and appears to have a culture of treating compliance as a burden hence “we would welcome an extension to the 20 working days response time.” Twenty working days is already very generous.”

The regulator has stressed that it would not want to see charges levied on every request, but that a “new approach” was necessary to “prevent individuals from misusing the Act”.

TFN has asked for comment from OSCR on Ewart’s blog.

Speaking about its Scottish Parliament submission earlier this week, information officer David Adamson said: “As a public authority, we aim to be transparent, consistent and fair in our work and in our decision-making. 

“The FOISA legislation has an important role in underpinning that transparency. We think that some changes could help to make the system work better for all those using it. 

“While we have suggested charging in some specific circumstances, this could only work if it did not make the system inaccessible for those requesting information.”

OSCR’s submission is one of 55 received by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Commission, which is examining how FOI can be improved.

The Scottish Government has proposed simplifying various aspects of the FOI Act, as well as clarifying which requests can be rejected as “vexatious”. Oral evidence will be heard by the committee later this year.

16th August 2019 by Ruchir Shah

OSCR, I think charging for FOI would be a very bad idea. There are other, better ways to deal with vexatious requests. Happy to explore these with you.

20th August 2019 by Jake

OSCR are a power unto themselves. The current Scottish Government are to blame for this. Just look at the current supposed changes to the legislation relating to OSCR overseeing charities its a joke.