In these difficult financial times, it’s not a surprise that councils are looking to charge for as many services as possible.
What is surprising, however, is just how often the idea of charging for FOI requests is floated. The conspiracy theorist in me has always suspected that bleating on about how much FOI requests cost a council has more to do with councillors not being keen on a piece of legislation which gives them little control over the flow of information than it does about excessive spending on dealing with the requests.
Last year, Cheshire West and Chester announced it planned to charge for all FOI requests until it was pointed out that, actually, the legislation doesn’t allow for you to do that. Hampshire County Council has also called for the power to charge for requests.
Now Pendle Council has joined the fray. The borough council in an area best known for its witches and large discount clothes shop called Boundary Mill, has announced it is ‘reviewing charging for more complex cases.’
According to the Lancashire Telegraph, Pendle is looking at charging more for many of the services it provides. So taxi licences will go up in price, as will the cost of getting the rat catcher out.
Unlike these services, national legislation covering Freedom of Information actually sets out the circumstances in which charges can be made: Requests cannot be charged for if they cost less than £450 (of £650 if in central government) to process, and there are a whole heap of restrictions on what can be counted towards that charge – for example, the cost of redacting information isn’t included.
Should it cost more than £450 to locate and extract that information, the body can refuse the request. Some go so far as to say how much it would cost to get the information and offer people the chance to pay to get that information.
To that end, Pendle Council’s review into charging more for complex FOI cases is in itself a waste of cash. The rules are there and one council can’t bend them just because it is getting complex cases. Hopefully, in that sense, this post has done its bit to prevent Pendle wasting money on a wild goose chase review.