spso Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Watch
Campaigning for a more accountable & effective Scottish Public Services Ombudsman
How to make a Freedom of Information request

Information is power

The Authorities do not want you to know what is going on or give you information which weakens their case
or demonstrates blatant cases of maladministration.

Unlock the Power

Use the Freedom of Information Act to get the information which can be used to hold the authorities and/or
the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to account.

Most of the information on this web site has been obtained through freedom of information requests.

The  Scottish Public Services Ombudsman did not want anyone to know about their performance or that
members of the public complained about the service they provide, but they had to release the information
as it was requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

It is also worthwhile asking the SPSO to release all correspondence between them and the Authorities and
all documents which the hold on your complaints file. You can ask for this during the investigation
(especially very you have been waiting two years for a response)  or after the SPSO has determined your
complaint.

Make the FOI request

Step 1.

Write to the authority or SPSO asking them to provide all written information and correspondence
regarding you case or complaint under a Freedom of Information request.  When you write to them,
request that they detail in their letter of response a full list of information which they are releasing (ie
author, title, date). You should also ask them to detail all information that they are withholding (ie author,
title, date).

Step 2.

The Authority or SPSO has 20 days to respond in writing to you. If you are not happy with the response (ie
withholding information) or they do not respond to you within 30 days then go to Step 3.

Step 3.

You have 40 days (60 days from the Authority or SPSO receiving your letter in Step 1.) to ask the authority
or SPSO to perform a review of their decision to withhold information from you.

Step 4.

The Authority or SPSO has 20 days to respond in writing to your request for a review. If you are still not
happy with the response (ie withholding information) or they do not respond to you within 30 days then go
to Step 5.

Step 5.

You have 6 months time limit from step 4. to write to the Scottish Information Commissioner asking him to
review the decision by the Authority or SPSO to withhold information from you.

When asking for a review of the decision of the authority or SPSO to withhold the information you need to
appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner on the grounds of the "Public Interest test". The Scottish
Information Commissioner's Public Interest test briefing document can be found on the Commissioner's
web site
here (link) or can be downloaded from this site (link)

You need to review the following list of factors and identify which ones you believe the Authority or SPSO
should have considered and if properly considered and applied would have compelled the Authority or
SPSO to release the information to you.

•  the general public interest that information is accessible i.e. whether disclosure would enhance scrutiny
of decision-making processes and thereby improve accountability and participation;

•  whether disclosure would contribute to the administration of justice and enforcement of the law including
the prevention or detection of crime or the apprehension or prosecution of offenders;

• whether disclosure would affect the economic interests of the whole or part of the United Kingdom;

• whether disclosure would contribute to ensuring effective oversight of expenditure of public funds and
that the public obtain value for money;

• whether disclosure keeps the public adequately informed of any danger to public health or safety, or to
the environment;

• whether disclosure would impact adversely on safeguarding national security or international relations;
and

• whether disclosure would contribute to ensuring that any public authority with regulatory responsibilities is
adequately discharging its functions;

• whether disclosure would ensure fairness in relation to applications or complaints, reveal malpractice or
enable the correction of misleading claims;

• whether disclosure would contribute to a debate on a matter of public interest;

• whether disclosure would prejudice the protection of an individual's right to privacy.

In deciding whether a disclosure is in the public interest, authorities should not take into account:

•  possible embarrassment of government or other public authority officials;
•  the seniority of persons involved in the subject matter;
•  the risk of the applicant misinterpreting the information.
•  possible loss of confidence in government or other public authority.

Once you have identified the factors which apply to your request for information then you need appeal to
the Scottish Information Commissioner on these grounds.

An example of an appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner is:

"The public interest tests which were not considered by the authority or SPSO, and which if applied would
have directed the authority to disclose the withheld information are:

1. The disclosure of this information is in the general public interest as it would enhance scrutiny of the
decision making process and improve accountability and participation.

2. Disclosure would contribute to ensuring that any public authority with regulatory responsibilities is
adequately discharging it's functions.

3. Whether disclosure would ensure fairness in relation to applications or complaints, reveal malpractice or
enable the correction of misleading claims."

The Scottish Information Commissioner address is

Scottish Information Commissioner,
Kinburn Castle,
Doubledykes Road,
St Andrews, Fife
KY16 9DS

Telephone: 01334 464610
Fax: 01334 464611
e-mail: enquiries@itspublicknowledge.info

and more information can be found at the Scottish Information Commissioner web site  
http://www.
itspublicknowledge.info/home/ScottishInformationCommissioner.asp
Note

You must follow the request and review process with the organisation you are requesting the information
from otherwise it won't be a valid request and the Scottish Information Commissioner will reject your appeal
to them....
at this point you just have to repeat your request to the Authority or SPSO and follow
the steps as detailed above to obtain the information you originally wished to view.


The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland web site

This site has a useful guide to Freedom of Information request. A copy of the guide can be downloaded
here (link)


How FOI requests have helped to hold the SPSO to account.

The Freedom of Information act has been very beneficial as it allows members of the public to hold
authorities to account.

For example take the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO).  

The SPSO annual reports for 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 detailed how many complaints had been
received but not how many investigations they had performed.

From looking at the reports I guessed that the example results of their investigations in the annual reports
were probably the only ones that had been “formally investigated”.

So after making a FOI request the SPSO confirmed that in 2003-2004 there were 1,293 complaints and
only 18 were “formally investigated” and in 2004-2005 there were 1,387 complaints and only 9 were
“formally investigated”.

Now in 2006-2007 there were 1,826 complaints and 315 were “formally investigated” which is still a very
small number but significantly more that in the previous years. How many investigations would have been
performed in 2006/2007 if the previous tiny number of investigations had not been revealed under a FOI
request?

The SPSO stated that they detailed all complaints about their own performance in their annual reports. If
you read their annual reports there are no details of any complaints about their own service.

After making a FOI request the SPSO acknowledged that the public do complain about them and that they
had not publicly reported these complaints in the annual reports as they said they had.

The SPSO are the Guardians of the complaints system in Scotland. They tell everyone how to run a model
complaints system.

Another interesting fact about the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman which was discovered after a FOI
request is they do not accept any complaints about their own performance, do not “formally investigate”
these complaints and do not report these complaints publicly or to the Scottish Parliament.  

How can an organisation tell someone how to run a model complaints system when they do not accept any
complaints or opportunities to improve themselves?

Why does the Scottish Parliament allow this situation to exist?

After 3 years of complaining to the SPSO I asked for a copy of my complete complaints file from the SPSO.
I received a copy of an internal review which stated that my complaint had never been "formally accepted
for investigation". It was only then that I realised that for 3 years the Scottish Ombudsman had been giving
the impression they were investigating my complaint when in fact it had been rejected on day one. My
complaint was only treated as an "enquiry" so never featured on their complaints statistics.
Information = Power
Make a Freedom of Information
request and get the information