Kent County Council to charge for some FOI requests

Working on a file at a desk (generic) Image copyright Construction Photography/Avalon
Image caption Kent County Council says it spends more than 60,000 hours per year answering FOI requests

A council plans to change its Freedom of Information system by charging requesters for some data already available on its website.

Kent County Council says an average 15-hour query costs the taxpayer over £450.

Its data protection officer said if people request information already published on its website "in another format, [they] will have to pay".

Annually more than 60,000 hours of officers' time is spent on requests.

Common FOI requests, of which the council says there will be more than 2,000 this year, include details of celebrity appearances and staff salaries.

Data protection officer Benjamin Watt said: "Our interpretation of the act is that if it's already published on the council's website, you can have it in that format and not in another one.

"If you wish to have it in another format, you will have to pay."

The authority said 85% of Freedom of Information requests were completed on time, although the target is 90%, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

Conservative councillor Gary Cooke told a council meeting on Tuesday the authority needed to tackle those profiting from the legislation.

He said some organisations put in FOI requests and then charged others for use of the data.

Mr Cooke said: "They are using FOIs in a commercial manner, not for the original intent.

"In those situations, those people should be paying for that information."

An Information Commissioner's Office spokeswoman said: "It is important that public authorities comply with all their obligations under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

"If we receive any complaints regarding the way Kent County Council handle their FOIA requests we will consider each one based on the individual facts"

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