The Freedom of Information Act (FOI) gives individuals a general right of access to recorded information that is 'held' by public authorities and places a duty on these bodies to be open and accountable to the public.
As a public body, the University must respond to any FOI requests.
An FOI request is a request for recorded information that is held by the University.
Recorded information includes information that the University holds in permanent form, such as computerised systems (PCs, emails) and printed documents or hand-written notes.
This also includes information taken elsewhere to work on. It's treated the same way as if it were 'held' within a University office.
The applicant needs to provide a name and address along with their request. Requests can be made via post, email or fax, and they can come from anyone and from anywhere in the world. The applicant does not have to mention the Act or explain why they want the information.
We must respond to a request within 20 working days.
Once delivered to the University, or emailed to a member of staff the 20 working day countdown begins the day after.
This can be an issue if the FOI request is emailed to a member of staff who is on holiday or off sick. The Information Commissioner takes the view that where an automated out of office message provides instructions to an applicant on how to re-direct their message, the request will not have been received by the University until it is re-sent to the alternative contact.
If staff are on holiday or absent due to sickness, they can add the following to a standard out of office email message:
"If your enquiry is a Freedom of Information request please re-direct your enquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org".
The Information Security Team in NUIT takes responsibility for coordinating and responding to FOI requests. However, any member of staff who holds information that has been requested may be asked to provide that information and assist with producing the response.
FOI establishes a general right of access to all of the University's recorded information - so in most cases the information will be disclosed.
If it isn’t clear exactly what information the requester is asking for, then we are expected to get in touch with them and ask them to clarify. In such cases the '20 working day clock' does not start until the clarification is received.
It is a criminal offence to destroy, obscure or erase material in an attempt to deliberately prevent disclosure when a valid FOI request has been received.
There are a number of exemptions within FOI that may prevent us from releasing certain information, for example:
- personal information
- commercially-sensitive information
- information that was provided to us in confidence
If you have any specific queries, just contact us.
Generally, we must respond to FOI requests without charge. We may be able to reclaim the costs of reasonable disbursements, such as printing, photocopying or postage, but this is only done on very rare occasions where we would incur significant costs in responding to the request.
FOI allows public authorities to decline requests for information where complying with the request exceeds the appropriate cost limit which is specified in the Fees Regulations.
The costs which can be taken into account include staff time required to locate, retrieve and extract the information that has been requested. We do not include staff time taken on other aspects of the request, such as the consideration of exemptions.
The cost limit is £450, and staff time must be calculated at £25 per hour, so requests can be refused if it would take us longer than 18 hours to collate the information.
If we refuse a request because it exceeds the costs limit, we have a legal duty to provide reasonable advice and assistance to the requester, to enable them to narrow down their request so that it no longer exceeds the £450 limit.
Publication schemePublication scheme
The FOI Act requires the University to maintain a Publication Scheme that is approved by the Information Commissioner's Office. A publication scheme is a classified index to information that the University holds which is intended to be made routinely available to the public.
Often requests are answered with a simple referral to our publication scheme.
If you receive a questionnaire, it could be classed as a FOI request if it asks for existing recorded information. However, be aware there is no obligation under the FOI Act to create new recorded information in response to an FOI request. So questionnaires that ask for judgements and opinions may not be valid FOI requests.
Professional email groupsProfessional email groups
It is highly unlikely that a question submitted to an email list would be regarded as an FOI request, unless specifically labelled as such.
University librariansUniversity librarians
The library's resources are exempt from individual FOI requests because the information is already reasonably accessible.