Freedom of Information
The Freedom of Information Act 1997 came into effect on 21st April 1998. This Act gives you the right to access records held by Government departments and certain public bodies. The FOI Act became effective in this Institution on 1st October 2001. The Freedom of Information Act 2014 came into effect on 14th October 2014 and all new FOI requests are now considered under the new 2014 Act. This unit is responsible for assisting students, staff and the public in exercising their rights under the Freedom of Information Act.
What is Freedom of Information?
The Freedom of Information Act confers on individuals a right of access to information held in the University's records, a right to have official information relating to them amended where it is incomplete, incorrect or misleading and a right to have made known to them the reasons for decisions that have materially affected them. The Act will not impose changes in the University's objectives or functions.
It will, however, mean:
- the processing of requests for access to information within strict time limits;
- the publication of information about the University's functions, structure, the services it provides, the records it holds and of all procedures, practices and guidelines used in decision-making;
- some changes in the way in which records are created, maintained and used and the way in which decision-making processes and their outcomes are formulated and recorded.
In order to provide greater access for the general community to information about how the University operates, as well as to aid individuals in framing requests, the University will publish under section 8 of the 2014 Act, a reference guides to include; Information about the FOI Body; Services Provided to the Public; Decision Making Process for Major Policy Proposals; Financail Information; Procurement; FOI Disclosure Log and Other Information to be Published Routinely.
What is the purpose of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI Act)?
The Act asserts the right of members of the public to obtain access to official information to the greatest extent possible, consistent with the public interest and the right to privacy. The Freedom of Information Act derives from the following broad principles:
The right of the individual to;
- Know what information is held in government records about him or her subject to certain exemptions
- Inspect files held about or relating to him or her
- Have inaccurate material on file corrected
Main Features of the Act
The Act establishes three new statutory rights:
- A legal right for each person to access information held by public bodies
- A legal right for each person to have official information relating to him/herself amended where it is incomplete, incorrect or misleading
- A legal right to obtain reasons for decisions affecting oneself
These rights mean that people can seek access to personal information held on them no matter when the information was created and to other records created after 21st April 1998.
What records can be sought under the Act?
The following manual and electronic records may be sought:
- All records created from commencement date
- All personal records irrespective of when created
- Any other records necessary to the understanding of a current record
- All personnel records of staff in public bodies created less than 3 years before commencement. Earlier records may be accessed if they are liable to be used in a way that might adversely affect the interests of the member of staff involved
Access to Information within the University?
Under the FOI Act, anyone is entitled to seek access to information not otherwise publicly available. Each person has a right to:
- Access records held by the University
- Correction of personal information relating to him/her held by the University where it is inaccurate, incomplete or misleading
- Request access to reasons for decisions made by Management directly affecting to him/her
Information Routinely Available
The University routinely makes information available to the public through the website, library etc., this will continue. Freedom of Information provides an additional source of information by facilitating access to records not routinely available.
What is a record?
- Under the Act a record includes:
- a book or other written or printed material in any form (including in any electronic device or in machine readable form),
- a map, plan or drawing,
- a disc, tape or other mechanical or electronic device in which data other than visual images are embodied so as to be capable, with or without the aid of some other mechanical or electronic equipment, of being reproduced from the disc, tape or other device,
- a film, disc, tape or other mechanical or electronic device in which visual images are embodied so as to be capable, with or without the aid of some other mechanical or electronic equipment, of being reproduced from the film, disc, tape or other device
- Under Section 11 of the Act, staff are entitled to seek access to their personnel records, created on or after 21st October, 1995 (i.e. up to three years prior to the commencement of the Act).
- An earlier record can be accessed if it is being used, or proposed to be used, in a way which adversely affects the staff member.
- Records relating to all recruitment and selection competitions will be disposed of after 12 months from the date of interview. Application forms and Interview Board recommendations relating to staff who are appointed will be retained.
- Every effort will be made to facilitate staff to access information contained in their personnel files outside the Freedom of Information Act. If staff wish to take this route then they should apply in writing to the Human Resources Department for access to their files.
- In general, no one else has the right of access to your personal records unless you give your consent in writing. Anyone making a request for records may be asked for proof of identity.
In certain circumstances it will be necessary to exempt from release, certain types of information. These are set out in detail in the Freedom of Information Act 2014 (Section 28-41 & Section 15)
Requests for Information – How are they made?
- All applications must be in writing by email or post and should indicate that the information is sought under the Freedom of Information Act 2014.
- Requests should be as specific as possible to enable the relevant information to be efficiently identified and retrieved.
- If information is desired in a particular format i.e. photocopy, computer disk, etc. the requester should also indicate this in their application.
- The requester may be required to prove his/her identity, particularly when requesting personal information using an acceptable form of identification, i.e. passport, driving licence, birth certificate, etc.
The Freedom of Information Officer of the University will be happy to assist the requester in the formulation of their request at all times. e: firstname.lastname@example.org or Freedom of Information Officer, SETU Carlow, Kilkenny Road, Carlow.
Decision Makers & Internal Reviewers
SETU Carlow Decision Makers include all Heads of Department/Function and Internal Reviewers are all Senior Managers who are a higher level to the Heads of Department/Function.
Is there assistance for persons with disabilities?
The University's FOI Unit provides assistance to persons with a disability who want to exercise their rights under the FOI Act (e.g. accepting oral requests from requesters who are unable to read, print and/or write due to their disability, enabling the requester to inspect of have records explained to him or her).
For further information, please contact the FOI Unit at SETU.
Charges for FOI requests
- There is no charge when making an FOI request.
- Fees may be charged in respect of the time spent in efficiently locating and retrieving records, based on a standard hourly rate of €20.00. Photocopying charges of 4 cent per page may also apply;
- There is a minimum threshold of €101 below which no search, retrieval and copying fees can be charged. Once the charge reaches €101, full fees apply;
- There is a cap on the amount of search, retrieval and copying fees that can be charged of €500;
- There is a further upper limit on estimated search, retrieval and copying fees at €700 above which an FOI body can refuse to process a request, unless the requester is prepared to refine the request to bring the search, retrieval and copying fees below the limit;
- The fee for internal review under Section 21 is €30 (€10 for medical card holders and their dependants)
- The fee for appeals to the Information Commissioner under Section 22 is €50 (€15 for medical card holders and their dependants)
- In respect of personal records, copying charges only will apply where a large number of records are involved.
What is the Response Time?
Under the Act, the University is obliged to:
- Acknowledge receipt of the request within two weeks
- Make a decision on the request within four weeks (or eight weeks in certain limited circumstances)
If a response is not issued within four weeks the request is deemed to have been refused and the requester can proceed to the internal review stage.
If a request is refused, can it be appealed?
Yes. It may be appealed to an Internal Reviewer within four weeks of being notified of the initial decision. The review will be carried out by an official, senior to the person who made the original decision. The review must be completed within three weeks.
If you are unhappy with the review, you have the right to appeal the decision to the Information Commissioner. (Section 22) Appeals, in writing, may be made to the Appeals Commissioner at the following address: Office of the Information Commissioner, 18 Lower Leeson Street, Dublin 2
There is a right of appeal to the High Court, on a point of law only, in certain circumstances.
Section 8 of the Freedom of Information Act 2014 requires FOI bodies to prepare and publish as much information as possible in an open and accessible manner on a routine basis outside of FOI, having regard to the principles of openness, transparency and accountability as set out in Sections 8(5) and 11(3) of the Act. This allows for the publication or giving of records outside of FOI provided that such publication or giving of access is not prohibited by law. The scheme commits FOI bodies to make information available as part of their normal business activities in accordance with this scheme. SETU Carlow Section 8 Publication Scheme.