Line to take - LTT8 - Clarification of requests

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  • FOI/EIR: FOI
  • Section/Regulation: s1, s16
  • Issue: Clarification of requests
  • Source: Information Tribunal
  • Details: Barber / Inland Revenue (9 November 2005)
  • Related Lines to Take: n/a
  • Related Documents: FS50067001, EA/2005/0004, Awareness Guidance 23
  • Contact: PB
  • Date: 29/08/2006
  • Policy Reference: LTT8
  • © Copyright Information Commissioner's Office, re-used with permission
  • Original source linked from here: LTT

Line to take

Public authorities should ignore the tone and the precise wording of requests and focus upon the information which has been requested, if necessary seeking clarification from the applicant as to what information is wanted.

Further Information

In the case of Barber v the Information Commissioner, the Tribunal upheld an appeal against our DN. Mr Barber had a long-running dispute with the Inland Revenue concerning delays in tax refunds associated with the introduction of Self Assessments in the late 1990s. Mr Barber had requested that the Inland Revenue disclose what action it had taken in relation to several examples of what he described as “maladministration” and “failed standards.”

The DN upheld the refusal of the request on the ground that “it was framed in a way that levelled particular allegations and criticism at the Inland Revenue” and that the Inland Revenue disagreed with Mr Barber’s assessment that there had been failed standards. The Commissioner concluded that the Inland Revenue could reasonably and correctly state that they had no information to provide and were thus unable to meet his request.

The Tribunal said that this was the wrong approach. On the contrary, it stated that “where the public authority cannot easily identify the information then s1(3) provides a mechanism whereby the authority can seek to clarify the request and if this further information is not supplied then the authority is not obliged to comply with the request. There is no evidence that the Inland Revenue exercised this right under s1(3).” (para. 5)

Section 1(3) provides that “where a public authority reasonably requires further information in order to identify and locate the information requested” and has informed the applicant, no further action is required until that additional information has been received.

The Tribunal linked this “right” for public authorities with the duty under s16 to provide advice and assistance, so far as it would be reasonable to expect the authority to do so, to persons who propose to make, or have made, requests for information to it.”