Freedom of Information requests
Do the timelines for responding to FOI requests still apply during the COVID-19 health crisis?
We acknowledge the significant impact the Covid-19 health crisis may have on public authorities’ ability to respond to FOI requests.
While the timelines for responding to FOI requests are set down in law and can’t be changed, we recognise that unavoidable delays may arise as a direct result of the impacts of COVID-19.
Advice for Individuals
Members of the public should appreciate that front-line and critical services organisations such as healthcare providers, government departments, in particular the Department of Health and Social Care, The Treasury and The Isle of Man Constabulary, may need to divert resources to priority work areas with consequential impacts on other areas such as the handling of FOI requests.
- We ask you to bear this in mind in the event that you experience any such understandable delays in responses to FOI requests.
- We also ask to be as specific as possible in relation to the information you wish to access under FOI, if you need to make a request.
Reasonableness is key in these circumstances.
If you need to make a complaint to the Commissioner, the facts of each case, including any specific extenuating circumstances, will be fully taken into account.
Guidance on making FOI requests can be found at: https://inforights.im/individuals/accessing-public-information/
Advice for public authorities
We appreciate that public authorities, especially those providing frontline and critical services, may need to divert resources to priority work areas with consequential impacts on other areas such as the handling of FOI requests. We recognise the unprecedented challenges facing public authorities and the need for a proportionate regulatory approach in response to these extraordinary circumstances.
Any public authority experiencing difficulties in responding to FOI requests should, where possible, communicate with the requester about the handling of their FOI request, including any extension to the period for responding and the reasons for the delay in responding. FOIA provides for an extension of the period only where consideration needs to be given to whether qualified exemptions apply to the information sought.
Public authorities experiencing difficulties in actioning FOI requests should also consider:
- engaging with requesters in order to ensure that the request is as specific as possible in relation to the information sought (duty to advise and assist)
- whether it is possible to respond to requests in stages, communicating clearly with the requester concerned (duty to advise and assist).
Where a public authority, due to the impact of COVID-19, cannot respond to an FOI request in full or in part within the statutory timelines, they remain under an obligation to do so and should ensure that the FOI request is actioned as soon as possible. The reasons for not complying with the timelines should be documented by the public authority and clearly communicated to the affected requester.
While the statutory obligations cannot be waived, should a complaint be made to the Commissioner, the facts of each case including any public authority specific extenuating circumstances will be fully taken into account.
Guidance on complying with FOI requests is available at: https://inforights.im/organisations/freedom-of-information/guidance-for-public-authorities/