On Sept 13th 2017, the Cabinet recommended that charging for Environmental Information would become mandatory. Report Number C-17-35 set out Shepway District Council’s (now Folkestone & Hythe District Council) philosophy and recommendation for charging. However, on June 3rd 2019 the Information Commissioner’s Office handed down a ruling in favour of our public face making it clear they cannot charge for Environmental Information. – The ruling can be downloaded here. – FER – 0763266
Folkestone & Hythe District Council wished to impose a charge of £375 – changed later to £325 – on our public face for requesting/accessing Environmental Information. However, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in a ruling handed down on the 3rd June said the charge was unreasonable.
In effect, the ICO’s decision sets out that it cannot be reasonable to charge for environmental information below the appropriate limit set out in the FOIA fees regulations. Although the fees regulations do not directly apply to EIR, the Commissioner’s view is that the appropriate limit (of £600 for central government and £450 for other public authorities) provides a useful starting point when considering charges under the regulations.
In a blog post accompanying the decision, Gill Bull, the ICO’s Director of Freedom of Information states that authorities should avoid routinely charging for environmental information, and is unlikely to be sympathetic when charges are made for information falling beneath the appropriate limit. She links the decision to Parliament’s declaration of a ‘climate change emergency’, pointing out that it is more important than ever for people to be able to play a full and informed part in debate about the environment. This should not be hampered by financial barriers, she argues.
This decision emphasises the important relationship between access to information and the major issues that face society. The ICO will be updating their guidance later in the year to reflect this change in approach.
Of course our council can still appeal the ICO’s decision. If they do, then to Tribunal our public face must go. It is here that you the Taxpayer will end up footing any bill for the legal counsel the Council employ to defend the indefensible.
The Shepwayvox Team
Dissent is NOT a Crime