Tag Archives: Avon and Somerset Police

Did St Albans Council give misleading figures on FOI requests from police – and could other authorities be doing the same?

St Albans Council are one of an increasing number of public bodies to complain about Freedom of Information requests. In calculating the cost to the body of a quarter of a million pounds every year, they said that over one in ten requests come from the Metropolitan Police.

But Tim Turner was skeptical. So he asked how many of the police requests actually mentioned FOI. They avoided the question:

“St Albans drew my attention to a section on the Information Commissioner’s website which says that any request for information that is plainly not an EIR or a subject access request should be treated as an FOI.”

The implication being that routine requests for information from other public bodies may be being classified as ‘FOI’ as a way of inflating costs and supporting the case against it – even where they would previously just be routine.

Turner then asked specifically how many of those police requests were made under the Data Protection Act:

They admitted that all of them were“.

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Avon and Somerset Police calculate an “average” cost for an FOI request which is higher than the maximum

£540 is claimed - but £450 is the maximum

Background image by Paul Townsend

While I’m on the subject of Freedom of Information, here’s an odd story in the recent onslaught of anti-FOI press releases, from Avon and Somerset Police.

The police force is just one of many public bodies recently to moan about “bizarre and comical” FOI requests*. They claim that Freedom Of Information cost the body over half a million pounds last year. But can we trust their calculations?

Here’s how they say they arrived at their figure of £514,620:

"The cost of answering requests is calculated on a basis of £30 per hour , with an average time of 18 hours per request."

“The cost of answering requests is calculated on a basis of £30 per hour , with an average time of 18 hours per request.”

That’s an average cost of £540.

Now, here’s the guidance on costs from the Information Commissioner:

“The cost limit for complying with a request or a linked series of requests from the same person or group is set at £450 for [non central] public authorities.”

So somehow Avon and Somerset have arrived at an average cost per request which is higher than the maximum cost for FOI requests.

How? Well, firstly the 18 hours “average” they mention is actually the maximum time that can be spent on an FOI request. So either every requester is somehow managing to hit that magical maximum, or they cannot calculate an average.

Worse, the £30 cost per hour is higher than they are supposed to charge.

According to the Ministry of Justice:

“£25 is the standard hourly rate that all authorities must use to calculate the staff costs of answering requests.”

Perhaps we need an FOI request to find out why Avon and Somerset Police are charging so much to answer FOI requests, and the calculations they used to arrive at an ‘average’?

UPDATE: It seems someone did exactly that:

avon somerset police foi story

*Apparently it’s “bizarre and comical” to ask how many police officers failed a physical. The answer is one in ten.