FREEDOM OF INFORMATION AT THE UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL:
FEES GUIDANCE FOR DEPARTMENTS
- How to calculate fees for access to information under the Freedom of Information Act
- Am I allowed to charge a fee for providing information under FOI?
- How to manage 20-day deadlines when charging fees
- What am I allowed to charge for?
- Fees for searching for information
- Fees for disclosure where the cost of compliance exceeds the £450 limit
- What am I not allowed to charge for?
- Do I have to charge VAT?
- Single requests
- Single enquiries: is it worth recording the time spent complying with a minor request for information?
- Repeated requests
- "Campaign" enquiries
- What if I have overestimated the cost of a request and I have already received the fee?
- What if I have underestimated the cost of a request?
This guidance is based on the Freedom of Information Act and the mandatory FOI Fees Regulations published by the Department for Constitutional Affairs.
If you are not sure about how to calculate a fee contact the Information Rights Officer. Departments should not depart from this guidance when calculating FOI Fees.
Under the Freedom of Information Act the University is obliged to supply information within 20 working days. The University is entitled to charge a fee for providing this information.
Whenever you charge a fee, however, you are legally required to issue a Fees Notice to the requester BEFORE you supply the information so the requester can decide whether to continue with the request. Model Fees Notices are available on the University's FOI website. You can amend them to suit you purposes.
The deadline of 20 working days is suspended from the date you send out the Fees Notice until you receive the fee. When you receive the fee you should then start again to comply with the request. If the requester does not send you the fee within three months of the Fees Notice, the request has lapsed and you are no longer obliged to provide the information. For this reason it is very important that the Fees Notice is dated
There are two types of charges that may be made for providing information to the public: disbursements and fees.
Disbursements include the costs of:
- complying with the obligation to supply the information in a specific format, such as on tape, on CD ROM, on paper;
- reproducing any document containing the information, such as by photocopying (at 10p per sheet where the copying is more than a few sheets);
- postage or other form of transmitting the information, such as a courier fee.
Bear in mind that for small amounts, the cost of recovery (including staff time) may be higher than the revenue generated. Nevertheless, even a relatively small charge may discourage vexations requests. Heads of Department and the Information Rights Officer may use their discretion as to whether they decide to charge for very small fees.
The University is required by law to calculate time spent responding to requests at no more than £25 per person per hour, regardless of who does the work.
You cannot charge a fee for the first two and a half days' time it takes to search for, sort out, edit and redact (block out or erase) the information. This is judged to be £450 of time (18 hours).
However, if you reasonably believe that it will take more than 18 hours to respond to a request, you are entitled either to refuse the request altogether or bill for all the time taken to respond. This should be at the discretion of your Head of Department or the Information Rights Officer.
Heads of Department and the Information Rights Officer may also use their discretion as to whether they decide to charge for very small fees.
If you do decide to provide the information and it will cost more than £450 to do this, you are allowed to charge the full cost of complying with the request, including the first £450 that you would not normally be allowed to charge.
Remember to send a Fees Notice and receive payment BEFORE beginning the work.
You are not allowed to charge for staff time spent:
- considering whether to apply an exemption;
- considering the public interest or prejudice;
- confirming or denying the information is held;
- supplying the applicant with the information.
You are not allowed to charge a standard flat-rate fee for requests.
Disbursements can be charged for any Freedom of Information Request (see above).
If it costs less than £450 in total (two and a half days searching, sorting, editing and redacting plus disbursements) to answer a single request, you may only charge for the disbursements.
If it costs more than £450 (two and a half days searching, sorting, editing and redacting plus disbursements) in total, you may use your discretion either:
- To provide the information and charge the full amount (i.e. £450+) or,
- To refuse the request
Whichever decision you make, you MUST tell the requester in writing.
Yes, it is, because if you receive subsequent requests from the same individual for the same or similar information within 60 working days of the first request you can treat it as a 'repeated enquiry' (see below) and may be able to charge a higher fee or refuse the request.
A repeated request is where you receive subsequent requests from the same individual for the same or similar information within 60 working days of the first request. If you get a repeated request you can add the cost of each request together and either:
- refuse to comply with the request because it exceeds the limit of £450 or
- charge the full amount for providing the information.
Remember to issue a Fees Notice so the requester can decide whether to pursue the request.
"Campaign" enquiries fulfil each of the following criteria;
- there are two or more requests
- the requests must relate to any extent to the same or similar information
- they are received from different persons
- the requesters appear to be acting in concert or in pursuance of a campaign
- the requests are received within any period of 60 consecutive working days.
As with repeated requests, the rules for a single enquiry still apply, but the estimated cost of complying with any one of the requests is taken to be the total cost of complying with all of them. This is know as "aggregation of related requests". This would normally mean that it would be too expensive to comply with the request; if in doubt, seek advice from the Secretary's Office.
Remember that you can make a separate disbursement charge for each person, but only ONE charge for locating, redacting and providing the information.
If a large group of people are making similar requests you should give serious consideration to publishing the information on a website to save on the cost of responding to each request. If it takes more than two and a half days to find and collate the information it is still at your discretion whether you do this, but if a large section of the public are requesting information it is good public relations to take all reasonable steps to provide as much information as possible, without damaging the legitimate interests of others.
If you have overestimated the cost of the request by more than £5 you must return the difference to the requester.
If you have underestimated the cost you must use your discretion. If it is a small amount, you may choose not to ask for more money and continue to complete the request. If you do wish to make another charge, you must issue another Fees Notice. Do not carry out any more work until you have received the fee.