How we comply with the Freedom of Information Act
The Freedom of Information Act applies to all ‘public authorities’ – this includes
- National Parks
- central and local government
- the health service
- schools, colleges and universities
- the police
- other non-departmental public bodies, committees and advisory bodies.
Anyone can ask for any information at all – but some information might be withheld to protect various interests which are allowed for by the Act. If this is case, the public authority must tell you that they have withheld information and why.
If you ask for information about yourself, then your request will be handled under the Data Protection Act instead of the Freedom of Information Act. You have slightly different rights to this information, different fees apply and public authorities have longer to respond to these requests.
Most requests are free. You might be asked to pay a small amount for making photocopies or postage. If the public authority thinks that it will cost them more than £450 to find the information and prepare it for release, then they can turn down your request. They might ask you to narrow down your request by being more specific in the information you’re looking for.
It is estimated that over 90% of all the information Northumberland National Park Authority has could be made available under the Freedom of Information regulations.
Rights of Access
Under the Act, any member of the public (including individuals, organisation or businesses) has the right to ask, in writing (by letter or e-mail) to see or receive information held by the Authority. This can include information which the Authority has produced, and information which is held on behalf of another organisation. Applicants do not have to state the purpose of their request.
Timescale and Public Interest
The Authority will make information available by responding to any request made in writing within 20 working days, unless there is an operational or “public interest” reason for not doing so, or there is an absolute exemption under the Act.
The Authority will make information available proactively by including as wide a selection of information as is possible on the Publication Scheme, and including on the list of publications clear information on where the publications can be obtained, or website links direct to the publications.
Requests can be answered by providing information, or directing enquirers to where the information can be found.
The public interest test will apply to qualified exemptions under the Act. The test is whether on balance it is in the public interest to disclose the information. If required the Authority solicitor will make this decision and there will be a written record of the reasons on file.
Information which is absolutely or partially exempt
The Authority will not classify information as exempt unless there are clear reasons under the Act for doing so. Where documents contain exempt information, the rest of the document will be available under the Act unless other exemptions apply.
Where qualified exemptions to access apply, the Authority will inform the applicant, in writing and within 20 working days, of such an exemption. The Authority will apply the public interest test and inform the applicant in writing and as soon as possible. This will decide whether the information can be made available in its entirety or in a summarised or edited format.
The Authority is unable to make information available where an absolute exemption applies, and will notify the applicant to this effect within 20 working days.
Fees and charges
For information on the website, access will normally be free of charge. There may be additional charges for work undertaken to obtain and provide the information requested. Where a retrieval of information request costs more than £450.00 a charge may be incurred.
The Authority will endeavour to make clear to all applicants when a fee or other charges will be incurred. Applicants will have three months to pay a fee or charge before the application is considered to have expired.
Where charges or fees apply, the Authority will also endeavour to suggest alternative ways of obtaining the information at a lower cost or at no charge.
The Authority undertakes to make information available in other formats if requested where this will increase access, and will provide advice and assistance to any applicant to enable them to access the information they require, insofar as the cost of doing so is defined as reasonable under the Act.
Rights of review and appeal
If access to information is refused because of an exemption, the applicant has a right to appeal for a review of the decision.
This will initially be dealt with by the internal complaints procedure of the Authority, and will be carried out by a senior officer of the Authority who has not previously been involved with the request.
If the appeal is not resolved, the applicant will have the right to appeal to the Information Commissioner for an independent review. The Authority also has the right to appeal to the Information Commissioner in regard to a complaint or an appeal from an applicant.
Freedom of Information Officer
Northumberland National Park Authority
Further Information about Freedom of Information
A general introduction to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 can be found on the Information Commissioner’s website.
Northumberland National Park Authority
Telephone: 01434 605555
Fax: 01434 600522
E-mail: [email protected]k