Following on from our blog post of 16 June 2014 you may remember that Scottish social landlords are now regarded as public authorities for the purposes of the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (EISRs).
Questions of an environmental character are necessarily bound up with the nature of a social landlord's business and this has now been recognised by the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) in her decision notice.
From decisions to construct new social housing, to implementing improvements to existing properties, the choices which social landlords make on a daily basis will necessarily involve factors of an environmental nature. These types of measure will be common to most, if not all, Scottish social landlords and for that reason, we have compiled the following list of key steps which Scottish landlords should take going forward:
7 key steps Scottish social landlords should take now to comply with Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations
- Requests for environmental information can be made by anyone and by any means. The EISRs do not require applicants to state their reasons for making a request nor does the request need to assume a specific format. As such, Scottish social landlords must be prepared to deal with all types of request, which could range from applications made via email and Twitter direct message to voicemail messages left on the Scottish social landlord's telephone answering machine.
- Consider the types of information which might be the subject of an EISRs request. It may not be immediately obvious in some cases whether the information requested is in fact environmental in nature. However, decisions of the SIC have tended to favour a broad interpretation of what might be considered 'environmental information'. On that basis, Scottish social landlords should not be too quick to dismiss requests that do not directly relate to environmental matters.
- Develop and implement a records management policy. Under the EISRs, applicants can access any information which the Scottish social landlord holds, as well as any information which another body holds on behalf of the Scottish social landlord. The result is an extensive catalogue of information from which applicants are entitled to make requests. Scottish social landlords are advised to train staff to help them create more effective records systems in order to allow them to manage the handling of requests.
- Establish appropriate mechanisms for processing an EISRs request. Requests must be responded to within 20 working days from the date on which the request was received. It is important that Scottish social landlords comply with this time limit, however, there are circumstances where it can be extended, particularly where the request is complex or voluminous.
- Put in place appropriate review processes for dealing with dissatisfied applicants. If an applicant is dissatisfied with the manner in which a Scottish social landlord has handled his / her request, the applicant can ask the Scottish social landlord to review its decision on the request. The applicant need not provide a reason, although the applicant may consider that the Scottish social landlord has failed to provide all of the information that it holds which is relevant to the request or has applied an exception from disclosure incorrectly. In any case, the Scottish social landlord needs to have an effective review mechanism in place.
- Think about charges. The EISRs entitle Scottish social landlords to charge applicants a reasonable fee to cover the costs of providing any requested environmental information. In the interests of transparency, any such charge must be included in a schedule of charges to be published and made accessible to applicants in advance of imposing the fee. The fee cannot cover the costs of producing the information.
- Be proactive. In addition to responding to EISRs requests and to providing advice and assistance in relation to any request, Scottish social landlords can pre-empt or even avoid such requests altogether by actively publicising the environmental information they hold. Scottish social landlords should make use of the latest technology to help them comply with this requirement of the EISRs. Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, are fantastic resources for making regular and widely-accessible updates on environmental matters.
Get in touch
Kelly Sleight is a Solicitor in Harper Macleod's Public Sector & Housing team, in particular providing advice and assistance in relation to regulatory, governance and compliance issues.
For further information relating to what your organisation must do to ensure your compliance with the EISRs, please get in touch.