HM Insights

Coronavirus and Freedom of Information - obligations and timescales to respond to requests

The Scottish Information Commissioner's offices are closed for the foreseeable future due to the impact of the Coronavirus. Although the Commissioner will have a small team monitoring and responding to urgent freedom of information enquires, it can be expected that this closure will have a large impact on Scottish public authorities and individuals.

During this closure, the Commissioner has advised that Scottish public authorities should continue to make use of the Commissioner's website which contains various guides in relation to the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) and the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (the EIRs).

In the event of an urgent enquiry, the Commissioner can still be contacted via email ([email protected]) but has advised it will be unable to take enquiries by phone or via individual staff email addresses.

Generally, the Commissioner intends to still be available for urgent enquiries however its response to enquiries will likely be slower than usual.

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Timescales for responding to requests

Covid-19 will likely impact the ability of Scottish public authorities to respond to information requests within the statutory timescales as set down in FOISA and the EIRs.

Accordingly, the Commissioner has noted that, in the event of an appeal to the Commissioner, it will have no option but to find that a Scottish public authority has failed to respond within the timescales set down in FOISA and the EIRs.

However, the Commissioner has advised that it will be sympathetic to the effects that Covid-19 has on Scottish public authority's ability to respond timeously in the event of staff shortages.

The Commissioner has noted that discussions are taking place with the Scottish Government to determine if it will be appropriate to enact emergency legislation to extend the 20 working day timescales in FOISA. However, the Commissioner does not believe that extending the timescales is necessary at this time.

Accordingly, it is important for Scottish public authorities to keep in mind their statutory requirements under FOISA and the EIRs during the Covid-19 outbreak and ensure that freedom of information requests are still being handled in accordance with the legislation as far as possible in these unprecedented times.

Get in touch

Harper Macleod's public sector team are on hand to provide practical advice on freedom of information law during these difficult times. If you have any queries regarding the above, please contact a member of our team.


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