Freedom of Information

The Council holds a great deal of information which you have a right to access.

We already publish a lot of information on our website, but you also have the right to request information that we haven't published and we have a duty to respond under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) or the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR).

Any personal information the Council may hold about you is outside the scope of this page, and is dealt with in the Privacy and Data Protection pages.

 

How do I make a request?

Details on what must be (and what need not be) included in a request; who you should contact, and how.

 

What will happen to my request?

 Guidance on the deadlines we work to and the advice and decisions we may issue under various circumstances.

 

What information is published?

Much information is made proactively available on our website, and guidance is available to navigate it.

 

What about environmental information?

There are some differences between the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR) which you may wish to know about before you make a request. 

 

Is there information that you won't disclose?

A brief introduction to the most common reasons we will refuse to disclose requested information. We will only do this if disclosure is exempt under the appropriate legislation.

 

Will it cost me to make a request?

An explanation of the (uncommon) circumstances under which we will charge fees, and the standard amounts chargeable for certain activities and materials.

 

What if I'm not satisfied with the way my request was handled?

Details on how to complain to the Council (this will trigger an internal review), and how to complain to the Information Commissioner.

 

Where can I find more information?

A list of resources available to help you to understand and make the most out of Freedom of Information.

How to Make a Request

If we have already published the information you want, it will be listed in our Publication Scheme, and available on our website. Checking the Scheme before you make a request may save you time.

Our officers will be able to identify requests under Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR), so you don't need to specify which legislation your request is under.

You must include an address (e-mail or postal) so that we can correspond with you further.

If you have a specific requirement regarding the format of the information, please let us know. Where reasonable, we will supply the information in the format you request.

We receive most requests by email. Emailed requests should be sent to  legal@southsomerset.gov.uk .

You may also write to the Legal Services Department at:

Legal Services, SSDC Central Offices, Brympton Way, BA20 2HT

  

Management of Your Request

Typically, requests must be answered within 20 working days of receipt, (where the first working day after receipt is the first day to count toward the deadline); but deadlines may be extended in the following circumstances:

  • The request is under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) and a 'public interest test' is being conducted; or
  • The request is under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR) and the request is complex and involves lots of information.

In any case, the responsible officer will inform you why a deadline is being extended, and by how long (this will be 20 days except in very unusual circumstances).

Your request will be assigned a responsible officer, and this officer will communicate with you on behalf of the Council about all issues relating to your request, until the request is closed or transferred.

Requests (or in some cases, certain parts of requests) may be transferred to another officer who will then become the responsible officer. If this is the case, you will be notified.

If it is clear that your request is outside the scope of the legislation, we will explain why.

If your request is entirely unclear, we will ask you to clarify it; the deadline will be reset when clarification is received.

If all the information you have requested has already been published, we will notify you and direct you to the published information.

Otherwise, we will acknowledge receipt of your request if you ask us to, or if it would otherwise be reasonable to do so, including in the following circumstances:

  • When any part of your request is unclear. In which case we will also ask you to clarify, and the deadline for compliance (for only the unclear part of the request) will be reset when clarification is received.
  • When any part of the requested information has already been published. In which case we will also direct you to the published information.

We may refuse to disclose some of the requested information, or refuse to confirm or deny that it is held. In either case, we will explain why the information is exempt and if applicable, why disclosure was not considered to be in the public interest. An introduction to the commonly exempt types of information is provided in the Information We Won't Disclose section.

If the information is to be communicated, we may issue a charge, which will be calculated in accordance with the Applicable Fees and Charges Section. Other issues relating to charges are also considered in that Section.

Whenever reasonable, we will disclose requested information in electronic, editable formats, and we will use a format and file type you request when reasonable.

If you would prefer, or if it is necessity, documents may be made available for inspection in person; in such cases we will make arrangements for this to happen as soon as possible.

We will tell you when we consider your request to be answered, and will provide information about avenues of redress if you are not satisfied with the management of your request.

  

Information We Publish

The Council has adopted the Model Publication Scheme for local authorities, as recommended by the Information Commissioner's Office. A summary of the information we publish under each class defined by the model scheme is available here.

  

Environmental Information

Environmental information held by the Council is under the scope of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR). 'Environmental information' means any information on:

a)     the state of the elements of the environment, such as air and atmosphere, water, soil, land, etc, and the interaction among these elements;

b)     factors, such as substances, energy, noise, radiation, waste, etc, likely to affect the elements of the environment in (a);

c)     measures (including administrative measures), such as policies, plans, etc, and activities likely to affect the elements and factors in (a) and (b) as well as measures or activities designed to protect those elements;

d)     reports on the implementation of environmental legislation;

e)     economic analyses and assumptions related to the measures and activities in (c); and

f)     the state of human health and safety, inasmuch as it may be affected by the state of the elements of the environment in (a) or, through those elements, by any of the matters in (b) and (c).

Broadly speaking, the EIR apply to information under a greater range of circumstances and provide fewer circumstances under which requests can be refused.

We will tell you whether your request is being dealt with under the FOIA or the EIR; this may affect the management of the request in the following ways:

  • Whilst both legislations include in their scope information held on the Council's behalf by third parties, the EIR may also include information held by the Council on behalf of third parties.
  • Requests under the FOIA can be refused if they are 'repeated', 'vexatious' or 'excessively costly', but requests under the EIR can be refused if they are 'manifestly unreasonable', which can be thought of as a combination of these criteria (repetitiveness, vexatiousness, and costliness).
  • Requested information under the EIR can only be withheld if it is exempt and if withholding it is in the public interest. On the other hand, some exemptions under the FOIA are 'absolute', meaning that the information caught by them can be withheld without considering whether doing so is in the public interest.
  • The ordinary deadline (of 20 working days) to answer a request under the EIR can be extended by 20 additional working days if the request is complex includes a lot of information.
  • Fees charged under the EIR may include the costs of staff time spent dealing with the request. Staff time may not be charged under the FOIA, except in extraordinary circumstances.

  

Information We Won't Disclose

Exemptions from disclosure are set out in Part II of the FOIA and Section 12 of the EIR. Detailed guidance on all exemptions under the FOIA and under the EIR is provided by the Information Commissioner's Office. The most common reasons that the Council will withhold information are introduced below.

Personal data about any person is unlikely to be disclosable under an FOIA or EIR request. If you would like to request personal data about yourself you must submit a Subject Access Request (SAR) under the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA); advice on doing this is provided here.

(Non-environmental) information which is 'reasonably accessible' by other means may be exempt under the FOIA.

A request under the FOIA may be refused entirely if:

  • It would cost the Council over £450 to comply with it, where staff time is calculated at £25 per hour (an excessively costly request);
  • It is identical or substantially similar to a previous request from the same applicant (a repeated request); or
  • The purpose and value of the request (to any section of the public) is insufficient to justify the distress, disruption or irritation that would be incurred by complying with it (a vexatious request).

A request for environmental information may be refused if its purpose and value (to any section of the public) is insufficient to justify the distress, disruption, irritation or cost that would be incurred by complying with it (a manifestly unreasonable request).

Other information may be exempt or excepted if it is confidential, or its disclosure would prejudice the commercial interests of any person. 

Applicable Fees and Charges

Ordinarily the Council will waive any applicable fees for requests made by journalists or by citizens who appear to be making requests for non-commercial purposes, except under the following circumstances:

  • The request is under the FOIA, and the fee is over £10;
  • The request is under the EIR, and the fee is over £20;
  • The information is available from an alternative source (and the applicant is aware of this); or
  • The total cost incurred by the Council over the last six months, responding to requests made by the applicant, or the group of requesters with whom the applicant is working, is greater than £150.

We will not waive fees for requests made for the advancement of commercial interest, or by solicitors on behalf of clients.

VAT is chargeable on fees for information available by alternative means, except when it is only available by requesting it form a(nother) Public Authority.

If we charge a fee we will notify you, explaining how it was calculated and by what date it must be paid (you have 90 calendar days to pay a fee).

If we charge a fee we will not begin processing your request until it is paid.

All payable fees are estimates, but when we process your request after a fee is paid, we will calculate the actual fee that would have applied in retrospect, and explain how it was calculated.

If the retrospective fee is less than the one we charged you, we'll refund the balance.

Standard costs:

  • Photocopies and Printing
 
A4 Black and White 10p per sheet
A3 Black and White 20p per sheet
A4 Colour 50p per sheet
A3 Colour £1 per sheet

Photo quality paper prints

 

£1 per sheet

 

  • Electronic Media
 

CD-ROM

 

£1

 

  • Applicable postage costs will vary depending on circumstances, but will not exceed the costs incurred in posting; we will use 1st Class post, unless you request otherwise.
  • Staff time is chargeable for all requests under the EIR and the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2015 (RPSI). We charge staff time at £25 per hour, and we charge for fractions of hours (instead of rounding up).

  

Complaints and Review

If you believe that any part of your request was not answered by the responsible officer (by refusal, denial or disclosure) you should notify them. If the officer agrees with your judgement they will amend the problem; if they disagree they will advise you to either submit a new request, specifying the information you desire, or submit a formal complaint which may trigger an internal review.

You should complain whenever you are dissatisfied about how we are performing our freedom of information, transparency, or re-use of public sector information, duties. But we will only conduct an internal review of a decision we have reached in the management of an FOI request or a request for re-use (under the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2015). And only when we have answered the request (including when we have refused it) and 6 months have not passed since the answer.

Wherever practical, internal reviews will be conducted by officers in the Legal Team not involved in the decision making process which gave rise to the matter under review. We aim to complete internal reviews within 20 working days of complaint. The officers conducting the internal review will address all relevant concerns raised and inform you of the decisions reached.

You may also appeal to the Information Commissioner's Officer (ICO). This is recommended if you are dissatisfied with the outcome of an internal review. The ICO is unlikely to consider appeals when the appellant has not exhausted the Council's internal complaints procedure. You can call the ICO helpline on 0303 123 1113, or visit their website for more information on how to make contact.

  

More Sources of Information

The Freedom of Information Act 2000

The Environmental Information Regulations 2004

The Freedom of Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations 2004

The Code of Practice for Public Authorities' functions under the FOIA, published by the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (now 'the Secretary of State for Justice')

The Model Publication Scheme, published by the Information Commissioner's Office

The index of all guidance published by the Information Commissioner's Office

The 'For the Public' page of the Information Commissioner's Office's website