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Focus on Regulation

Justice Minister seeks to reduce public authorities’ FOIA burden

Helen Grant, the Justice Minister, has indicated that the Government is considering measures to reduce the burden that requests made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) place on public authorities. This follows the Government’s response to the Justice Committee’s post-legislative report on the operation of FOIA, which was reported on this blog in December.
At present, under s. 12 FOIA, and the regulations made under it, a public authority is not obliged to comply with a FOIA request if the cost of complying with the request exceeds £600 (equivalent to the cost of 24 hours of work) for central Government departments, or £450 (equivalent to the cost of 18 hours of work) for other public bodies. In its report, the Justice Committee proposed reducing the 18 hour threshold for public bodies to 16 hours, but in its response, the Government made clear its view that more extensive reductions were necessary.
On Friday, at a debate in the House of Commons’ secondary debating chamber, the Justice Minister re-iterated that the reduction of the 18 hour limit would produce only “the most minimal reduction in costs“, and that the Government was considering whether to go further.
In addition, she stated that the Government would focus its efforts on addressing “disproportionate use by industrial users of the Act“, restating the point made in the Government’s response that the Government would seek to modify the use of FOIA by one person, or a group of people, to make frequent, unrelated requests to the same public body. This may be of particular concern to journalists.