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Local council says it will start charging for FOI requests

A local council in Chester has announced it will start charging for freedom of information requests, claiming the service is currently being misused and manipulated.

According to a press release from Cheshire West and Chester council, it is being inundated with “ridiculous” requests for information which involves “copious detail”, much of it an unnecessary cost to the taxpayer, it adds.

As a result, the council’s Executive has now unanimously agreed a new charging policy for FOI requests. In the release it says it hopes this will enable it to “claw back some of the expense”.

But this tactic has been criticised by head of multimedia for Trinity Mirror Regionals David Higgerson, on his blog, after asking his own questions about the rules of FOI requests.

Councils can’t just charge for FOI requests. If it costs less than £450 in staff time to collate the information, then you can’t refuse to provide it on grounds of costs. Nor can you charge for that time.

In his post Higgerson offers his own recommendations for how the council could save money on answering FOI requests by improving the service. In summary they are:

  • Improve the council’s FOI page.
  • Carry a released information page.
  • Publish more information by default.
  • Re-read the FOI Act and use exemptions more often.
  • Talk to the requesters.

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