Case number: 98193
Requester sought access to the name and unique reference number of each file in the Office of Public Works excluding Personnel Division and Furniture Branch - whether decision of the Office to offer access to the records by means of photocopies of the pages falling within the terms of the request, at a cost of 3p per page, was in accordance with the terms of the FOI Act - section 47
The requester sought access to the name and unique reference number of each file in the Office of Public Works excluding Personnel Division and Furniture Branch, which amounted to approximately 50,000 pages. The Office was prepared to allow the requester physical access to the records in situ, or to photocopy them for him at a charge of 3p per page, which would work out at a total cost to the requester of �1,500.
The various provisions of section 47 provide for the charging of a fee for the estimated cost of any copy of a record made by a public body for a requester, provided the cost shall not exceed any amount that stands prescribed. S.I. 322 of 1998 provides for the charging of 3p per page for the photocopying of a record. The Commissioner's authorised officer accepted that the number of records concerned in this case amounted to 50,000 pages, which, at a charge of 3p per page for photocopying, amounted to a charge of £1,500 to the requester.
The Commissioner's authorised officer noted that section 47(5) provides for the reduction or waiving of the charge for photocopying, where some or all of the information in the record concerned would be of particular assistance to the understanding of an issue of national importance. However, no case was made to this effect by the requester. The authorised officer commented it was not apparent to him that the requested records contained information which would be of particular assistance to the understanding of an issue of national importance, and found that section 47(5) was not applicable in this case. He affirmed the decision of the Office in that he was satisfied that the amount of the fee proposed by it was appropriate having regard to the provisions of section 47 of the FOI Act.
Our Reference: 98193
Dear Mr X
I refer to your application for a review of the decision of the Office of Public Works (the OPW) on your request for access to the name and unique reference number of each file in that Office excluding Personnel Division and Furniture Branch. I have been authorised by that Information Commissioner to carry out the review on his behalf.
I have now completed my review of the OPW's decision. In carrying out that review, I have had regard to your discussions with this Office and the submissions of the OPW. This Office has also examined the file registry system of the OPW.
I note that Mr. Fee, Investigator, met you at this Office on 18 February 1999 and informed you that the OPW was prepared to allow you physical access to the records in situ, or, alternatively, photocopy them for you at a charge of 3p per page, which would work out at a total cost to you of £1,500 - there being approximately 50,000 pages involved. Mr. Fee invited you to consider this offer and to consider, also, whether it might be possible to narrow the scope of your request. However, you did not correspond further in relation to the matter. Ms. Doyle of this Office wrote to you on 4 April explaining that the charge of 3p per page for photocopying is a fee determined by Regulation. She offered you a period of three weeks in which to make any comment which you thought relevant to the preliminary observations on your case outlined in her letter and, if you accepted the position as outlined, to withdraw your application for review. As that period has now passed and as I have not heard from you, I have decided to conclude my review by issuing a formal decision.
My review is concerned solely with the question of whether the decision of the Office of Public Works to offer you access to the records, by means of photocopies at a cost of 3p per page is in accordance with the terms of the Freedom of Information Act.
The position in relation to the charging of fees under the FOI Act is set out in section 47 of the Act. Section 47(1) provides for the charging of fees -"of such amount as may be appropriate having regard to the provisions of this section".
Section 47(2)(b) allows for the charging of a fee for
" the estimated cost of any copy of the record made by the public body concerned for the requester concerned, as determined by the head concerned"
Section 47(3)(b) states that :
"the amount of the cost specified in subsection 2(b) shall not exceed such amount (if any) as stands prescribed for the time being and the determination of that amount shall be in compliance with any provisions standing prescribed for the time being in relation to such determination."
The rate referred to in section 47(3)(b) was prescribed by the Freedom of Information Act, 1997 (Section 47(3)) (Amendment ) Regulations, 1998 (S. I. no. 522 of 1998) which provides, that
" Regulation 3 of the Freedom of Information Act, 1997 (Section 47(3)) Regulations, 1998, (S.I. No. 139 of 1998), is hereby amended by the substitution for paragraphs (a)..... of the following paragraphs: "(a) the amount of 3 pence per sheet in relation to a photocopy,"
I accept that the records in this case amount to approximately 50,000 pages. The amount currently prescribed for the photocopying of records is set out in S.I. 139 of 1998 at 3p per page. The cost of photocopying 50,000 pages at 3p per page results in a total charge of £1,500.
I have also had due regard to section 47(5) which provides for the reduction or waiving of the charge for photocopying as follows: "(5) A head may reduce the amount of or waive a fee or deposit under subsection (1) ...if, in his or her opinion, some or all of the information contained in the record concerned would be of particular assistance to the understanding of an issue of national importance"
I note that you did not make a case to me in relation to this subsection. In any event, it is not apparent to me that the records you have requested contain information which would be of particular assistance to the understanding of an issue of national importance. In the circumstances, I am satisfied that section 47(5) does not apply to this case.
The OPW has offered to photocopy the records which you have requested at the rate of 3 pence per sheet, and this rate is prescribed by Regulation. I am satisfied that the amount of the fee proposed by the OPW is appropriate having regard to the provisions of section 47 of the FOI Act. In the circumstances I have decided to affirm the decision of the OPW.
A party to a review, or any other person affected by a decision of the 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 4 weeks from the date of this letter.
Having completed my review under section 34 of the Act, I affirm the decision of the OPW to charge 3p per page to photocopy the pages falling within the terms of your request (estimated to be approximately 50,000 pages). I have given a detailed explanation of this decision below.