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  4. Freedom of Information and Environmental Information Regulations

Freedom of Information and Environmental Information Regulations

The Freedom of Information (FoI) Act and the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) give you a right of access to information held by public bodies, including the council, unless it is subject to any of the exemptions contained in the legislation.

Under FoI we produce a Publication Scheme, a guide of all the information we publish. If you cannot find the information you are looking for in the guide, you can make an FoI request.

Make a FoI request online

Alternatively you can email foi@westoxon.gov.uk or write to the FoI Officer, West Oxfordshire District Council, Woodgreen, Witney, OX28 1NB.

The form can be used for both FoI or EIR requests. You do not have to specify which you are using for your request as we have to decide which legislation the request comes under.

We will normally respond to your request in full within 20 working days. However, it may take longer if we are unsure what information is required, or if we apply any charges. In some cases we may not supply information because it is covered by an exemption under the legislation (though this is in some cases subject to the Public Interest test).

Please note: the supply of information under FoI or EIR does not mean that you can use it in a way that would infringe copyright, and you should get permission from the copyholder before any such use.

If you are disappointed with the response to your enquiry you can ask us to review our decision and actions. You must do this within 40 working days of our response and state why you are dissatisfied, and we will respond within 20 working days. If you are still dissatisfied or we are unable to resolve any other complaint then you can contact the independent regulator: Information Commissioner.

Environmental Information Regulations (EIR)

The EIRs cover a wide variety of environmental information including:

  • Raw data on subjects such as air and water quality levels, industrial discharge rates, soil quality and biodiversity
  • Regulatory measures affecting the environment, including policies, plans, programmes and agreements
  • Reports on the implementation of environmental legislation
  • Economic analyses, including cost benefit analysis on regulatory measures
  • Health and safety information, for example about food and land contamination and quality of life

The main differences between requests under the EIR and the FoI Act are that:

  • Requests for information can be oral as well as written.
  • The Environmental Information Regulations Exemptions are narrower and fewer.
  • The exemptions are all subject to the Public Interest Test

Freedom of Information Publication Scheme

The Freedom of Information Publication Scheme is a guide to the information we routinely publish or intend to publish. The scheme will assist you in requesting information from the council, and can be inspected at our offices at Woodgreen and Elmfield, Witney.

There is also a Publication Guide which tells you more about what we publish, where you can find it and details of any charges for accessing the information.

FOI and EIR exemptions

Freedom of Information (FOI) Act exemptions

The FoI Act enables people to request specific information held by public bodies, but there are also a number cases where information may not be disclosed which are called exemptions. The two main types of exemptions that apply to information held by West Oxfordshire District Council are:

Qualified exemptions

These are where information must be disclosed unless it can be argued that the public interest in withholding it is greater than the public interest in releasing it. This applies to:

  • Information intended for future publication
  • Investigations and proceedings conducted by us
  • Law enforcement
  • Health and safety
  • Environmental information
  • Legal professional privilege
  • Commercial interests
  • Where disclosure would be prejudicial to the effective conduct of the Councils affairs.

Absolute exemptions

These are where the information will not be disclosed, including:

  • Information accessible to the applicant by other means
  • Court records and other similar documentation
  • Personal information
  • Information provided in confidence by a third party where disclosure would give rise to an actionable breach of confidence.

Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) exceptions

Information can be withheld if it would adversely affect any of the matters below, though most of these are subject to a Public Interest Test to assess whether the public interest in withholding it is greater than the public interest in releasing it:

  • International relations
  • Defence and national security
  • Public safety
  • The course of justice, including court proceedings within a public authority
  • Intellectual property rights
  • Legal confidentiality of any proceedings within a public authority
  • Commercial confidentiality designed to protect legitimate economic interests
  • Voluntarily supplied information from people who have not consented to its disclosure
  • The environment to which the information relates.

Other exceptions (some of which are also subject to a Public Interest Test) include:

  • Requests that are manifestly unreasonable or too general
  • Incomplete or unfinished information such as draft reports or other work in progress
  • Internal communications from within the authority
  • Personal data

Public interest

Generally the public interest is served when the disclosure of information would:

  • Further the understanding of, and the participation in, the debate of issues of the day
  • Facilitate the accountability and transparency of our decisions
  • Facilitate accountability and transparency in our spending of public money
  • Allow individuals to understand decisions made by us that affect their lives and, in some cases, assist individuals in challenging those decisions
  • Bring to light information affecting public safety.

However, we may withhold information where we think that the public interest will not be served, for instance where we believe that release will discourage openness in expression of opinions.

FOI and EIR charges

We do not charge for the first £450 worth of council officer time spent on:

  • Working out whether we hold the information
  • Locating and retrieving it, and
  • Extracting the information (including editing).

Where we estimate that search and collation time will exceed £450 (known as the Appropriate Limit), we will discuss the requirements with the applicant and try to reduce the costs to within that limit. If this is not possible we will consider each request individually and either:

  • Refuse to answer the request, or
  • Apply a charge of £25.75 per hour of officer time to all work we undertake to fulfil the request.

Expenses will be charged based on the following:

  • Reproducing documents - 16p for each A4 sheet
  • Postage and other forms of transmissions eg fax - at cost
  • Additional costs when an applicant requests the information in a particular format - at cost.

When someone requests information that is already listed in our publication scheme, we will usually claim an exemption. However, where people have problems accessing the data we will try to offer assistance. Although we will assess each request individually to take into account factors such as the quantity of information requested or the recipient's location, in general we will make the following charges.

  • Where the information is on the website but the applicant does not have access to a computer we will charge the fees listed in the publication scheme. When they are not listed in the publication scheme we will levy the above charges listed under disbursements.
  • Where the applicant has visual disabilities but can read Braille we will charge the cost of translation and disbursements as above.
  • Where the applicant does not read English and would like a translation we will make a charge as well as fees for disbursements as above.

Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) charges

There is no charge for locating, retrieving or extracting environmental information, or for:

  • Information contained in the public registers we hold
  • Lists of information
  • Examining information at the Council's offices.

The charges for environmental information not covered above essentially cover:

  • Reproducing documents - 16p for each A4 sheet
  • Postage and other forms of transmission eg fax - at cost
  • Staff time - if we need to create information for the purposes of the request (which is outside the EIR) then the charge will be at an hourly rate based on the Council's Annual Budget Book and Charging Policy. The hourly charge is currently £73.46.