Posted: Wednesday 18 July 2012
Scotland’s Information Commissioner has published the results of its three year research project into how voluntary organisations use freedom of information (“FOI”) legislation. Interestingly, the project found that only 51% of respondents, taken from the third sector, had made a request under the legislation. This has led to concerns about why use of FOI rights amongst the third sector is lower than in other sectors.
The research has concluded that there is ‘mistrust’ in many third sector organisations regarding the public sector’s response to FOI requests. Of primary concern is the effect any request may have on the funding and working relationships between the third sector body and the public sector body. 49% of respondents said fear of damaging this relationship would discourage them from making an FOI request and 28% did not feel public authorities treat all FOI requests equally. With 84% of the respondent organisations being funded by public authorities it is perhaps not surprising that this should be a concern, but it is disappointing that there is a fear of repercussion from exercising a statutory right.
The FOI regime is intended to make public bodies in Scotland more open and to make access to information easier. There are a wide range of instances where information held by public bodies may be useful to organisations in the voluntary sector, so it is a tool which should not be overlooked. With the results of the recent research in mind, the Commissioner has created a new section on their website specifically aimed at the voluntary sector – it has a wealth of resources and provides some examples from across the sector showing how FOI has been used by charities.
Sam Price, Morton Fraser’s FOI expert, commented:
Lack of knowledge seems to be a barrier to the effective use of FOI by many voluntary organisations, so the Scottish Information Commissioner’s efforts to address this should be welcomed. Making an FOI request is really as simple as asking the right question and no one should be put off by a lack of knowledge from what is really a very straightforward process. The Commissioner is committed to improving FOI education in Scotland, particularly in the third sector, and I hope that in the future more voluntary organisations will feel empowered to make FOI requests.
For further information on this news story you may find our factsheet of interest. For further information regarding the Third Sector please contact the head of our Third Sector team, Lauren Scott, on 0131 247 1085 or email Lauren.email@example.com. Alternatively, if you would like to find out more about exercising your rights under FOI, contact our FOI expert, Samuel Price, on 0131 247 1139 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.