FOI requesters may occasionally want to know when their FOI request was received. The reason it matters is because it is (sometimes) used in calculating when the response is due. I have managed to get into a bit of a Twitter debate about this with FOIman. FOIman a former FOI officer, FOI trainer and expert in all things FOI. His website is a really useful resource and so where I disagree it is worth explaining why and I thought a blog post on this might explain my position more clearly.
What does the law say?
Section 10 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 says: “Subject to [certain rules], a public authority must comply with section 1(1) promptly and in any event not later than the twentieth working day following the date of receipt.”
I get two key points from this:
(1) public bodies must respond promptly and sometimes that might mean responding within 15 workings – they don’t always get the full twenty.
(2) the twenty working day period never starts on the date your request is received.
So what’s the debate
FOIman’s Christmas 2014/15 UK FOI Deadlines blog post says that whether a request is made on 1 and 2 December 2014 the 20th working day is still 5 January 2015. FOIman’s reasoning is that “… the reason they’re the same is that Dec 1 is not technically a working day – so request is actually received on 2nd.” That is where I disagree with FOIman Dec 1 may not be a working day but it is a date so there is no reason why it cannot be the date of receipt.
I know that some employees of public authorities don’t work on Saturdays for example but some do and some public buildings such as libraries are open on Saturdays and there is no reason why they cannot receive an FOI request in their hands. A more common scenario is that a public authority email server receives an email on a Saturday, Sunday or bank holiday. I make most of my requests by email or via whatdotheyknow.com so the date of receipt is the date I send/make the request and the 20 working days does not start that day but on the 1st working day after that day.
The ICO’s guidance on date of receipt is as follows:
“Section 10(6) states that the “date of receipt” is “the day on which the public authority receives the request for information”.
There is no requirement for this to be a working day. Indeed the “date of receipt” could be at a weekend, on a bank holiday or any other day on which an office is closed.
We acknowledge that the actual date of receipt when an office is closed may not be entirely certain, particularly with requests submitted in hard copy form.”
I hope that clears up one of the trickier aspects of FOI compliance.