The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs has issued a Code of Practice on the discharge of public authorities’ functions under Part I of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act) under section 45 of the Act.
This Internal Review/Complaints Procedure is produced in accordance with paragraphs 36 to 46 of the Code.
This procedure also applies to complaints in respect of the discharge of functions under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2005, and the INSPIRE Regulations 2009.
All complaints/expressions of dissatisfaction should be referred to the Council’s Compliments and Complaints Manager.
The complaint must be acknowledged in 3 working days and the substantive matter dealt with in 20 working days from receipt of the complaint. This period might be extended to a maximum of 40 working days in complex cases. In this event, the Information Compliance Manager must advise the Compliments and Complaints Manager in order for the complainant to be advised within the originally agreed 20 working days period.
When an expression of dissatisfaction is received, the Compliments and Complaints Manager will pass the complaint through to the Information Compliance Manager who will assess whether the matter can be resolved informally without the need to go into a formal review.
Informal resolution may be appropriate where the dissatisfaction relates to a matter that can simply and easily be resolved by the original decision maker. For example if the matter relates to:
- A procedural oversight
- A matter that requires the provision of a brief explanation
- A simple misunderstanding
When a complaint is received that cannot be dealt with informally a review of the original decision will be undertaken by a Reviewing Panel consisting of the Information Compliance Manager and the Assistant Head of Law.
If, however, the complaint/expression of dissatisfaction relates to a decision of the qualified person (i.e. the Monitoring Officer) under section 36 of the Act – the complainant will be directed by the Compliments and Complaints Manager on the advice of the Information Compliance Manager, to the Information Commissioner (without conducting an internal review). The Compliments and Complaints Manager will update the recording system and close the matter.
In all other cases, the Compliments and Complaints Manager shall notify the complainant that the complaint will be reviewed by a Reviewing Panel and the timescale for completion of the review within the acknowledgment of the complaint.
In reviewing the decision, the task of the Reviewing Panel is to assess that procedures have been followed properly and that the original decision was reasonable and lawful.
In doing so the relevant file/papers must be read and the original decision maker(s) interviewed. The Reviewing Panel should also discuss the matter with the complainant if clarification is required.
The Reviewing Panel can recommend the following:-
- That the complaint is upheld and an apology in relation to procedural failings is offered to the complainant. The reasons for the change to the decision relating to access to information must be given
- Provision of the information previously denied as soon as practicable
- That the complaint is not upheld and confirm the original decision relating to access to information
- That the authority should take appropriate steps to learn lessons from complaints, in order to prevent similar errors occurring in the future
Once the Reviewing Panel is satisfied that its investigation is complete, it must send the response in to the Compliments and Complaints Manager, who will review and quality assure the response.
The Compliments and Complaints Manager will inform the complainant of the outcome of the Council's review in writing.
Where the outcome of the complaint is that an original decision to withhold information is upheld or is otherwise in the Council's favour, the complainant shall be informed of his/her right to:
- Apply to the Information Commissioner
- Be given details of how to apply to the Information Commissioner
The Compliments and Complaints Manager will log and close the response.