Frequently Asked Questions
- Why is Durham University subject to FOI?
- I have received an email that among other things asks for some information but does not mention FOI. Do I still have to respond within 20 working days?
- Do I need to mention FOI when responding?
- Can I use FOI to collect information from the University or other public authorities for use in my academic or administrative research project?
- Can vague or poorly worded requests simply be ignored?
- At what point can I refuse a request because it will take too much time?
Durham University is a listed public authority under section 3(1)(a)(i) of the FOI Act as it receives financial support under section 65 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. As an institution that spends public funds we have an obligation to be open and transparent in our activities. While government funding is only one of the University's sources of revenue, the FOI Act applies to all of the information we hold.
2. I have received an email that among other things asks for some information but does not mention FOI. Do I still have to respond within 20 working days?
Yes. Any request for information should be responded to in compliance with the FOI Act. The request is valid if it is received in writing (email, letter or fax) by the University and includes a valid name and address for correspondence.
If you will be providing the information in full within 20 working days you do not need to mention FOI in the response. If you do not have access to the information requested, would not normally provide the information, or a response will exceed the 20 working day limit, please forward the request as quickly as possible to firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. Can I use FOI to collect information from the University or other public authorities for use in my academic or administrative research project?
Yes. An FOI request may be made by any member of the public to any public authority. However, information you receive in response may be subject to copyright or intellectual property protections. Further, information and responses provided by public authorities may not fully appreciate the nature of your research or how the information requested will relate to that research. A more informal approach through colleagues at other public institutions may result in better quality and more relevant data.
Usually they cannot be ignored. The FOI Act requires public authorities to provide advice and assistance to those making requests, such as asking requestors to clarify vague or poorly worded requests. In some cases, we can point requestors to our website for more information. FOI requires each public authority to make a publication scheme available which details information made routinely publicly available. Durham University's publication scheme is available at http://www.dur.ac.uk/foi/publication.scheme/.
The FOI Act does allow some requests to be refused if they exceed a set cost limit. The cost limit is £450 for universities. This equates to about 18 hours of staff time. The cost limit may only be applied to time spent on:
- Determining whether the requested information is held
- Locating the information
- Retrieving the information
- Extracting the information (including editing or redactions)
However, if a request is to be refused on costs limit basis, the University is still required to provide advice and assistance to the requestor on how to rephrase or refocus the request in order to avoid exceeding the cost limit.
Please forward FOI requests to email@example.com as soon as possible if you believe that responding to a request is likely to exceed the cost limit.