Frequently Asked FOI Questions
These questions and answers are formulated from those received by the service during staff training sessions.
Do we break the Data Protection Act if we disclose information?
The Freedom of Information Act is about non personal information such as policies and procedures. We would not disclose personal data about an individual. There is an exemption for personal data in the Freedom of Information Act.
There will be an overlap with personal data and non personal information. How will we deal with these issues?
General procedures and guidelines will come under the Freedom of Information Act and Personal data will be dealt with under the Data Protection Act.
What about unstructured personal data such as notes and opinions given in a meeting?
They would come under the FOI Act exemption for personal data and would be dealt with under the Data Protection Act.
What about personal notes taken at meetings?
These come under FOI and may be disclosed.
How long should we be keeping minutes?
It depends on whether you are the department/service responsible for recording the official minutes. If you are then you need to keep the signed off mintues - further guidance can be found in the University's Retention Schedule. There is no need for other departments or services to keep their copy.
Does this mean that all paper copies of minutes need to be kept?
No, not if there is an electronic copy held by the department responsible.
Do minutes of meetings come under FOI?
Yes. However, any personal data in the minutes will be exempt under FOI, that information may be blanked out.
What if the information has been shredded because I think the minutes of a particular meeting are held by someone else?
The secretary of the Committee is the person who has the responsibility for the signed off copy of the minutes and they should be retained as detailed in the Bangor University Retention Schedule
There may be commercial sensitivity in minutes if courses and module plans are discussed. How will this be affected?
If this is the case then s.43 of the Act will apply, and we would consider blanking out those parts that are exempt and explain to the requestor that information has been taken out under that particular exemption. However we would also need to consider the public interest in disclosing despite the exemption.
What if the information is not available?
If the information is genuinely not there then it is not "recorded information" as defined by the Act. In that case we would need to go back to the requestor and say that it is not available. However if the information is, for example, on a database then we would be required to extract the relevant information.
Can a request be made for the information to be available in a language of their choice or even available in Braille?
Yes, any language including English and Welsh. It also includes consideration of any disability issues for example making the information available in Braille.
I understand that the University are currently not charging for most requests. What if the information is not already available in the format requested?
There could be a charge but only if it was over the £450 threshold advised by the Government.
How do you know if it will be over £450?
The Government has said that for any search for information costing more than £450 (2 and half days at £25 per hour) the public authority can ask the requester if they wish to pay any cost or narrow their search.
Who defines how much we charge for information included in the Publication Scheme?
It is a decision made by the University that at the moment information will be available free of charge.
If we receive a request by e-mail for information to be sent electronically do we have to respond in that format?
Yes, but only if it is in electronic format. There is no need to create new records. If it is possible to scan the information then the request could be given further consideration.
Do discussions at the Examination Board come under FOI?
Yes, if it is general discussion. If individuals can be identified then this would come under the Data Protection Act.
Does the person making the request have to give a reason?
What about information on research?
Yes FOI Act applies. However, with external funding there may be a contract in place dealing with confidentiality or commercial sensitivity.
If the information on research is to be published at a later date is there a time limit for how long the exemption relating to information intending to be published applies?
There is no time limit attached to the exemption. The important thing is that there is a genuine predetermined intention to publish, prior to the request being received.
Is there a limit to the information being retrospective?
No, if the information exists it should be provided, subject to any exemption, whether it is in the department or service, records centre or archive.
What is the time limit?
20 working days.
Who checks to see whether an exemption applies?
In the first instance the Assistant Regsitrar checks to see if an exemption applies and if necessary gives consideration to the public interest test. The exemption is then signed off by the Registrar.
What about managing e-mails?
A request for information could be sent by e-mail. Do not delete any e-mail without reading it to make sure that it isn't an FOI request.
How does FOI affect contracts?
There may be contractual obligations such as confidentiality and commercially sensitive information which would apply. However, we cannot offer our contractors a blanket confidentiality agreement as this would not be consistent with FOI. The University has a standard FOI clause to insert in contracts.
What about a request for a large amount of information?
We can go back to the person requesting the information and say that the search for information is estimated to take more than 2 and a half days of work (£450) and ask them whether they wish to pay the fee calculated or narrow their request.
What about copyright?
We cannot use copyright as a reason not to give out information. We are still able to send out the information even though it may be subject to copyright. However we would need to make absolutely clear to the requestor that making further copies of the information could breach copyright legislation.
Will information about strategies be subject to FOI?
All non personal information is covered by FOI subject to any exemption that might apply. Some exemptions such as commercially sensitive are also subject to the public interest test. Consideration will need to be given to whether the public interest in disclosing the information is greater than the public interest in with holding the information.
If a request is sent to an e-mail address and the member of staff is on holiday what will happen?
It is important that either the member of staff arranges for e-mails to be forwarded to another member of staff for action or an out of office reply gives details of where the requestor can get assistance with the request.
Some members of staff go on leave or extended periods away from the University is there an exemption to help with dealing with requests sent to these staff?
No, we must make every effort to ensure that the request is responded to promptly and with the 20 working days.