No Government plans for flat FoI request fee, says Falconer

The Government does not intend to introduce a flat-rate fee for requests under the Freedom of Information Act, but confirmed today that it is examining other options for changing the FoI fees structure.

In July the Sunday Times obtained a confidential cabinet memo suggesting that the Constitutional Affairs Secretary, Lord Falconer, had proposed the introduction of FoI fees to deter "serial requesters".

However, in a statement about proposed changes to the FoI fee regime released today by the Department for Constitutional Affairs, the department said:"The Govnermnent is not minded to introduce a flat rate fee."

Instead, the DCA said it would considering allowing public bodies to take into account the time taken to consider exemptions, read through documents, and gain outside consultation when assessing whether a request can be refused on const grounds.

At present, central government departments can refuse FoI requests costing more than £600 to process, and other bodies can reject requests costing more than £450 to process.

Expanding the tasks that public officials may consider when making this calculation would be likely to increase the number of requests turned away on cost grounds.

In another proposal, public bodies would have greater ability to treat multiple requests as a single request for assessing their processing costs.

The DCA's proposals were based on independent review of the costs of FoI implementation prepared by economic consultants Frontier Economics.

A cross-party group of MPs has tabled an early day motion
voicing concern over the suggestion that application fee could be
charged for all requests or to allow authorities to refuse requests, on
grounds of cost.

The review was released together with the Government's response to a report by a committee of MPs, who urged the Government not to make any changes to the present fee structure.

Lord Falconer, the Constitutional Affairs Secretary, said: "Freedom of Information has to be balanced with good government. It would be wrong not to make adjustments in light of experience and make sure we get the balance right between the provision of services and the provision of information."

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