FOI to remain ‘requester-blind’, charges for requests rejected

The Local Government minister, Brandon Lewis, has confirmed that the Government has no plans to change the ‘requester-blind’ principle on which the Freedom of Information Act is based and has rejected calls for charges to be introduced for making requests.

Sir Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government if he will make it his policy that local authorities should either refuse or levy a charge on applications under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 which seek to extract information on planning and other matters for commercial purposes; and if he will make a statement.Brandon Lewis: Local authorities are public bodies in their own right under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and the Department does not interfere with local authorities carrying out their obligations under this legislation. The legislation is ‘requester-blind’, and there are no plans to change this. It would therefore not be appropriate or practical to charge some requesters and not others.

The Freedom of Information Act already contains a suitable charging routine and local authorities must abide by this. The recent scrutiny of the Act by the Justice Select Committee considered the charging regime in some detail, and did not recommend any changes. In particular it recommended maintaining the principle of requester blindness and that public authorities should not be given the power to charge some requesters and not others.

Ministers have previously received representations from local authorities asking for powers to introduce new charges for freedom of information requests; we have rejected such an approach. If town halls want to reduce the amount they spend on responding to freedom of information requests, they should consider making the information freely available in the first place.

Indeed, this Government’s Open Data agenda seeks to open up public sector information rather than restrict it. The local government transparency code issued by my Department calls for councils to publish a wide range of data in an open and standardised format, for re-use and re-publication by anyone: from individuals, to voluntary sector to commercial organisations. Open and standardised formats allow creative use of data. For example, OpenlyLocal is seeking to build an open national database of planning applications.

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