Council asks MPs to consider charging for FoI requests

Birmingham City Council has asked MPs to consider introducing a £25 fee for handling Freedom of Information requests.

In a submission to the Commons inquiry into the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, the authority complained that it now received more than 1,500 requests a year – a 600 per cent increase on 2006.

It estimates that each request costs between £250 and £300 to deal with and that on average more than four requests were made for every logged correspondence.

In 2009 the council carried out an exercise to determine the costs associated with dealing with FOI requests.

It estimated the average time taken for each request was around 10-12 hours to locate, retrieve and review the information, and that when salary costs were included the figure came to an estimated cost of almost £800,000 a year.

At present, local authorities can reject a request if it costs more than £450 to handle, but Birmingham City Council said it had only once received payment for additional work

In its submission to the committee it said: ‘One possibility would be to adopt the charging regime for subject access requests, i.e. levying a flat rate initial fee of e.g. £25 per request.

‘This would force requestors to moderate their requests to the information they need, rather than sending the same request to hundreds of public authorities, each of which would have to search or respond to the request or direct them to the council website if the information has been published.”

The Birmingham Post reports that the Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, Chris Sims, is also calling for the £450 figure for exemptions to be lowered.

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