Case number: 150045

Whether the Council was justified in refusing to release further records relating to the applicant's request for a report of a complaint made about her on the ground that no further relevant records exist.

Conducted in accordance with section 22(2) of the FOI Act by Stephen Rafferty, Senior Investigator, who is authorised by the Information Commissioner to conduct this review

Background

The applicant made a request on 15 October 2014 for a copy of a report which had been sent to the Council's Housing Department about her. On 13 November 2014 the Council refused her request on the ground that the record sought did not exist. The Council went on to explain, however, that an anonymous telephone call had been received regarding the applicant and it provided details of the complaint made.

On 3 December 2014 the applicant sought an internal review of the Council's decision. The Council issued its internal review decision on 12 January 2015, upholding the original decision. On 10 February 2015 the applicant contacted this Office to seek a review of the Council's decision.

During the course of the review, Ms Sandra Murdiff, Investigating Officer, contacted the Council and clarified that a file note existed of the anonymous telephone conversation. The Council provided the applicant with a copy of the record in question on 14 April 2015. Subsequently, Ms Murdiff invited the applicant to withdraw her application for review or to provide any further comment she considered relevant to the review. While the applicant indicated that she did not want to withdraw her application for review, she did not make any further submission. Accordingly, I have decided to conclude this review by way of a formal binding decision.

In conducting this review I have had regard to the Council's decisions on the matter and its communications with this Office, to the applicant's communications with this Office and the Council and to the contents of the record released by the Council.

Scope of Review

This review is solely concerned with whether the Council was justified in refusing to release further records relating to the applicant's request for a report of a complaint made about her on the ground that no further relevant records exist.

Preliminary Matters

It is important to note that the Commissioner's remit does not extend to examining the actions of the Council in dealing with complaint made concerning the applicant. Our role in this case is to review the Council's decision in relation to the record sought.

Analysis and Findings

Section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act provides that a public body may refuse access if the record concerned does not exist or cannot be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain its whereabouts have been taken. The Commissioner's role in a case such as this is to review the decision of the public body and to decide whether that decision was justified.  This means that I must have regard to the evidence available to the decision maker and the reasoning used by the decision maker in arriving at his/her decision.  

As outlined above, the applicant sought a copy of a report which had been sent to the Council's Housing Department about her. The Department explained that the complaint was made by an anonymous caller in a telephone call to the Council's Housing Department about the applicant. Indeed, the contents of the record of that telephone conversation supports the Council's account of events and the applicant has obtained a copy of that record. While the applicant has indicated that she is not prepared to accept the review as settled following the release of the record of the telephone conversation, she has not disputed at any stage that the complaint was made by telephone anonymously, nor has she indicated or provided any evidence to suggest that other records coming within the scope of her request exist.

In the particular circumstances of this case, I find that the Council was justified in deciding that no further relevant records exist and I find that section 15(1)(a) applies.

Decision

Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the FOI Act 2014 I hereby affirm the Council's decision to refuse access to further relevant records on the ground that no such records exist.

Right of Appeal

A party to a review, or any other person affected by a decision of the Information Commissioner following a review, may appeal to the High Court on a point of law arising from the decision. Such an appeal must be initiated not later than four weeks from the date on which notice of the decision was given to the person bringing the appeal.


Stephen Rafferty
Senior Investigator