Freedom of Information

Policy statement

The Northern Ireland Community Relations Council (CRC) is committed to complying with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and any related legislation which is applicable. 

FOIA enables anyone, anywhere in the world, to request any recorded information held by, or on behalf of, the CRC. There is no need for the applicant to explain their reasons for the request, or that it is a request under FOIA. Requests for information must be made in writing, which includes emails.

Information will be provided if it is held, unless one or more of the exemptions listed in the legislation applies. Information which is exempt does not have to be provided.

  1. Responsibilities

All staff are responsible for ensuring that Freedom of Information requests they receive are dealt with in accordance with the FOIA and in compliance with this policy. Staff should forward all initial requests for information received by the Council to the Director of the Department of Finance Administration and Personnel (DFAP). All requests must be logged, dealt with promptly and in line with this policy. If requests are made verbally staff must ask the applicant to put their request in writing (appropriate assistance will be provided to applicants with access requirements) to the Director of DFAP at the addresses given in section 8 below.

CRC’s Accounting Officer has overall responsibility for this policy. Directors are responsible for ensuring implementation and compliance with this policy.

  1. Dealing with requests

The FOIA provides public access to information held by public authorities as:

  • public authorities are obliged to publish certain information about their activities, and 
  • members of the public are entitled to request information from public authorities.

Recorded information held by the CRC is subject to the requirements of the FOIA. The type of information which may be requested can be paper or electronic and may include draft documents, agendas, minutes, emails, diaries and even rough handwritten notes.  

The Community Relations Council will seek to respond to a FOI request within 20 working days.

Where a valid request is received, there is a duty on the CRC to confirm or deny whether it holds the information and if it does hold it, to provide the information so long as an exemption does not apply. If information has been requested but is not held, the CRC will inform the applicant of this. In exceptional cases the CRC may not be able to either confirm or deny if the information requested is held.

If a request is unclear, the CRC will ask for clarification as soon as possible to enable us to proceed with considering the request. The CRC will provide advice and assistance to help people make requests under the FOIA. We will aim to acknowledge requests for information within five working days of receipt. The CRC aims to respond to all requests promptly and in any event within 20 working days following receipt of a valid request. The applicant will be informed if it is not possible to comply with this timescale and given an indication of when the response is likely to be provided. 

  1. Exemptions

The FOIA does not entitle applicants to be given all information held by the Commission. The FOIA sets out exemptions from the right of access to information in sections 21-44.

In broad terms, there are two kinds of exemptions:

  • Absolute exemptions – the right to information is completely over-ridden by the exemption
  • Qualified exemptions – where an exemption may be applied, but the CRC must weigh up competing interests to decide whether it serves the interests of the public better to withhold or disclose the information. This is known as the public interest test.

Although there might be occasions when it is appropriate to rely on an exemption, provision of information is an integral part of the CRC’s work. Therefore, we aim to disclose as much information as possible and rely on exemptions only in limited circumstances.

Where a request is refused a refusal notice must be issued setting out the section of FOIA being relied upon and in most instances explain the reasons for its decision, including the details of any public interest and prejudice tests. The refusal notice will also outline the complaints procedure with relevant details and inform the requester of their right to complain to the Information Commissioner.

(i) GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and Personal Data

The Commission is under a legal duty to protect personal data as required by the GDPR and other privacy legislation as per Section 40 of the FOIA. CRC will carefully consider its responsibilities under the GDPR before disclosing any personal data about living individuals. If responding to a request under the FOIA would breach the GDPR, it may be exempt from disclosure. In deciding whether to refuse a request on this basis, we will consider whether it would be unfair to the individual concerned to disclose their personal data. Any request made by an individual for their own personal data will be treated as a subject access request under the Data Protection Act 1998. 

(ii) Vexatious requests

While we are committed to providing information, we sometimes receive requests which can be deemed ‘vexatious’.

Some of these requests can be costly for public bodies such as the CRC to handle, and responding to them may be an inappropriate use of staff time. 

In determining whether a request may be vexatious we will consider whether it is likely to cause a disproportionate or unjustifiable level of distress, disruption or irritation. Where we believe the request to be vexatious, we will issue a refusal notice unless we have already done so in response to an earlier vexatious or repeated request from the same individual, and it would be unreasonable to issue another one.

(iii) Repeated requests

The CRC can refuse requests if they are repeated, whether or not they are also vexatious.

(iv) Confidentiality 

If we receive information from someone else and complying with a request for that information would be a breach of confidence that is actionable, the information may be exempt from disclosure. 

(v) Legal privilege

If complying with a request would reveal information that is subject to ‘legal professional privilege’ or the equivalent Scottish rules, then it may be exempt from disclosure. These long-established rules exist to ensure people are confident they can be completely frank and candid with their legal adviser when obtaining legal advice, without fear of disclosure.

(vi) Cost limit 

CRC reserves the right to refuse requests where the cost of providing the information would exceed the statutory cost limit. This limit is currently £450, which equates to 18 hours’ work at a statutory rate of £25 per hour. We are only allowed to take into account staff costs spent on the following activities:

  • Determining whether we hold the information requested 
  • Locating the information or documents containing the information 
  • Retrieving such information or documents 
  • Extracting the information from the document containing it (including editing or redacting information) 

We are not allowed to include the estimated cost of staff time taken in deciding whether any exemptions apply to the disclosure of information requested. 

We have a separate document that sets out the fees we are allowed to charge and when we will charge them.

(vii) Other exemptions

There are also other exemptions that the CRC might apply and these include:

  • information already reasonably accessible
  • information intended for future publication
  • research information
  • security bodies and national security
  • court records
  • parliamentary privilege
  • communications with the royal family
  • endangering health and safety
  • if complying with the request would prejudice or would be likely to prejudice investigations, law enforcement, audit functions, the effective conduct of public affairs, defence, the effectiveness of the armed forces, international relations, relations between the UK Government, the Scottish Executive, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive, the economy or the financial interests of the UK, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish administrations, and/or  trade secrets and prejudice to commercial interests. 

We will also not disclose information if complying with a request for information:

  • is not allowed under law
  • would be contrary to an obligation under EU law, or 
  • would constitute contempt of court.
  1. Publication Scheme

The CRC has adopted the Information Commissioner’s Model Publication Scheme.

The Scheme sets out what information the Commission will make available, classified by type of information, and how this information can be accessed. It also details how much it will cost if there are any charges.

  1. Review

Anyone who has made a request for information to the CRC under the FOIA is entitled to request an internal review if they are unhappy with the way their request has been handled.

Internal reviews will be carried out afresh by a senior member of staff who was not involved with the original decision (appropriate assistance will be provided to requesters with access requirements). 

A request for review may involve:

  • a request for a review of a decision to withhold information
  • a complaint about the handling of a request for information, or
  • a complaint about the CRC’s Publication Scheme,

The CRC may ask the applicant for clarification of the grounds of their complaint if the grounds are not clear.

A request for an internal review should be sent to the contact details set out in section 7 below.

An internal review will consider whether or not the request was handled appropriately, in line with the requirements of the FOIA. Applicants wishing to ask for an internal review must do so within 40 working days of the date of the CRC’s final response to their request. 

The CRC will acknowledge the request for an internal review within five working days and aims to respond within 20 working days of receipt. In a small number of cases, the response may take longer. In these circumstances, the CRC will notify the requester, explain why more time is needed and give an estimate of the completion date.

Anyone who is unhappy with the outcome of an internal review is entitled to complain to the ICO.         

  1. Contact details

Email: info@nicrc.org.uk

Postal address:

NI Community Relations Council
2nd Floor
Equality House
7-9 Shaftesbury Square
Belfast
BT2 7DP

For anyone who is unable to contact us in writing and requires a reasonable adjustment because of a disability, please call us on: 028 9022 7500

  1. Reasonable adjustments and alternative formats

The CRC is committed to equal opportunities and our aim is to make our policy easy to use and accessible to all of our stakeholders. We will take reasonable steps to accommodate any reasonable adjustments required to enable access to this policy or to provide responses to requests in other formats, and provide such assistance as may reasonably be required. 

Should a copy of this policy be required in another language or format (such as braille, audio CD, large print or Easy Read) please get in touch with us using the contact details set out in section 8 above. 

Appendix 1    Publication Scheme
 

Northern Ireland Community Relations Council

Freedom of Information Act

Publication Scheme

As required by section 19 of the Freedom of Information Act (2000) this Publication Scheme sets out the types of information held by the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council which it will routinely publish and make available to the public. The Scheme also specifies the format in which that information will be made available and any conditions or exemptions which might apply. The Council undertakes to review its Publication Scheme on a regular basis.

This Publication Scheme appears on the Council’s web-site www.nicrc.org.uk and is also available on request in large print and audiotape cassette. We will also attempt to make this available in minority ethnic languages on request.

Introduction

The Northern Ireland Community Relations Council was established in 1990 as a registered charity and limited company. It acts as a development agency for peace in Northern Ireland and aims to enable change towards a society free from sectarianism. Support and advice is provided by the Council to community relations initiatives in the voluntary and community sector as well as guidance to public sector bodies addressing their ‘Good Relations’ obligations under section 75(2) of the NI Act (1998). The Council receives core-funding and most of its programme costs from the Executive Office (TEO) in the Northern Ireland Executive

Responsibility for the Publication Scheme lies with the Council’s Director of Finance, Administration and Personnel.

Responsibility for the day to day maintenance of the Scheme lies with the CRC Communications Manager. 

The Council’s postal address is

2nd Floor
Equality House
7-9 Shaftesbury Square
Belfast
BT2 7DB
info@nicrc.org.uk

Tel: +44 (0) 28 9022 7500

Classes of Information

Below are listed the types of information that are routinely available, for the most part on the CRC website:

Who we are, what we do and services we provide

Information about the nature and aims of the organization, its organisational structure, names of Board Members, list of current staff with post titles and contact details are available in the About Us section of the website.

What we spend and how we spend it

Annual Reports including audited Accounts and list of all grants awarded are available in the Publications section of the website.

What our priorities are and how we are doing

Annual Performance Reviews are published within the Annual Reports (available on the website).

An Annual Review is also published in printed copy and available in the Publications section of website.

Our Strategic Plan is available here.

How we make decisions

Minutes of all Council and Council Committee meetings are published on the website.

Our policies and procedures

Procedures and criteria for all CRC grant schemes are available from the website (under Funding)

CRC responses to public consultations are available on our website.

All CRC Press Releases are available on the website.

Our Information Management policies are available here.

CRC Finance and HR policies are available on request.  Please email us if you want to have a copy of these.

Lists and Registers

A list of all CRC publications available in print or electronically can be viewed on the CRC website.

 A disclosure register of all gifts or donations received is available for inspection at CRC.

Appendix 2:
 

Freedom of Information - Fees Policy

Here you will find out how much we charge for different types of requests for information

We are committed to meeting our obligations under Freedom of Information and other access to information legislation.

We will consider all requests for information on their merits and aim to send a response within one (1) calendar month under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR.  If we are unable to give an answer within the allotted time we will let you know, and tell you how much longer we need.

Requests for Personal Information

There is no charge for data subject access requests (requests to see your own personal information).  We will respond to your request within one calendar month.

Requests for Information under the Freedom of Information Act

Under £450 (The “Appropriate Limit”)

Where a request would cost us less than £450 or would take us less than 2.5 days (18 hours @ £25 per hour – which is the level set by government) to satisfy, we are not permitted to charge except for the cost of actually supplying the information. In calculating whether the appropriate limit has been met we are entitled to take into consideration the time involved in

i)         determining whether we hold the information requested;

ii)        locating the information or documents containing the information;

iii)       retrieving such information or documents; and

iv)       extracting the information from the document containing it, including any necessary editing and/or redaction.

The costs we are permitted to charge where the appropriate limit has not been met, known as disbursements, cover photocopying, providing pen drives or CDs or other computer media, translation, postage and other forms of transmission. Where the calculated fee is less than £10.00 no fee will be levied.

The rates in the table below will be charged for disbursements.   

Disbursement Costs for enquiries calculated to take over 2.5 days

Description                         Paper Size              Cost per page/ item

Black and white copy                   A4                           8p

Black and white copy                   A3                           12p

Colour copy                                 A4                           50p

Colour copy                                 A3                           75p

CD-Rom                                      -                              75p

CD R/W                                       -                              £1.50

Pen Drive                                     -                              £5.00

Postage and packaging will be charged at cost price.

The Freedom of Information Act gives public bodies two options for handling difficult or voluminous requests. We can charge or refuse to answer the request. First we will inform you that your request will exceed the appropriate limit and discuss ways in which you can reduce your request to bring it within the appropriate limit. 

If a request cannot be brought within the appropriate limit or where we have decided to answer requests which would take us longer than 2.5 days or cost more than the appropriate limit to respond to and are not subject to an exemption, we will charge for staff time at the rate of £25 per hour, as well as applying the rates for disbursements set out in the table above.

Charges for Environmental Information

The Environmental Information Regulations set no limit for these types of request. If you give us a maximum limit we will tell you how much information we can give you up to that amount. 

If we receive no maximum limit, and we feel the request is particularly large or complex, we will refuse. We will tell you that we are refusing and provide further guidance which may help you reduce the size of your request.

Our disbursement costs for this are also those included in the table above.

Opportunity to Inspect

If there is a large amount of information in connection with a request, or if we feel you would benefit from viewing this on site, where University staff will be able to provide advice, we will offer you the chance to make an appointment to view at no cost to you (other than your travel costs).

Persons with a Disability

If a person requires information in an alternative format, owing to a disability, there will be no charge for the cost of providing the information in the alternative format.  Other disbursement costs will apply as normal. A disabled person will not be penalized if a request for an alternative format exceeds the £450 limit.

The Northern Ireland Community Relations Council will seek to accommodate the needs of enquirers whose first language is not English.