ICO FOI guidance and decisions by subject

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The following lists interesting or contentious FOI topics that the Information Commissioner or the Information Tribunal has either issued Decision Notices or Guidance Notes for.

"Information, Not Documents"

The following ICO Decision Notice (FS50076355) shows that the Act should allow for provision of documents under most circumstances.

Paragraph 18

"Defra has advised the Commissioner that public authorities are only required to release information, not documents. Consequently, it believes that to provide a summary is adequate. The Commissioner does not accept this view. The Act provides a right of access to recorded information held by a public authority. This will normally be fulfilled through access to existing documents or electronic media, though in some cases the information can, or should, be disclosed through other means. The Commissioner’s approach is consistent with paragraph 6 of the Explanatory Notes to the Act which states that the Act provides access to documents, or copies of documents as well as to information."

This is backed up by the Ministry of Justice in their FOI guidance:

"The right of access in the Freedom of Information Act is to information not documents. However, if the requester asks for the information to be made available in a particular way, you must comply with this so far as is reasonably practical ... Sometimes applicants will request information in a particular form, perhaps asking for a copy of the minutes of a particular meeting. If it is reasonable to comply with an applicant's request as to the form in which information is disclosed, you are obliged to comply with that requested"

The ICO has a relevant "Line to take" policy document: LTT171

Salary packages

Salary band information can be disclosed

  • 22 February 2007 - University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust - FS50092819
  • 8 January 2008 - Information Commissioner - FS50163927 - "The ICO disclosed the job titles and salary bands to the complainant but refused to disclose the exact salary details under section 40(2) of the Act (First data protection principles).
  • 13 March 2008 - BBC - FS50131694 - "Whilst the Commissioner accepts that a person’s salary details are their personal data, he does not accept that disclosure of an anonymised list of the salary bands of the staff sent to cover the World Cup, without reference to their names or job roles would be unfair"

Actual salary information cannot be disclosed

  • 25 March 2008 - British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) FS50084357
  • 27 February 2008 - BBC - FS50072198
  • 26 June 2008 - De Montfort University - FS50142539 - "The Commissioner concluded that the disclosure of the staff members’ exact salary details would be unfair and would lead to a greater infringement of their legitimate right to privacy that is not outweighed by the legitimate interest of the public."

Anonymised salary data can be sometimes disclosed

  • If anonymised information can be provided for a large group of people, and that won't easily allow identification of individuals, then this doesn't count as personal data - see What is personal data flowchart and FS50092819 above.

Other useful references: The Audit Commission Act 1998 - Section 15 of the Act enables electors and taxpayers of a particular borough or police authority area to inspect and make their own copies of council and police authority accounts. The main restriction applies to details of payments to employees and former employees, such as wages and pensions.