Case number: OIC-117961-V0C3G4

Whether the Council was justified in refusing, under section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act, the applicant’s request for a copy of his housing file, on the ground that no relevant records exist or could be found

25 April 2022

Background

In a request dated 23 July 2021 the applicant submitted an FOI request to the Council for a copy of his housing file, including his application for social housing and affordable housing. In a decision dated 19 August 2021 the Council refused the applicant’s request under section 15(1)(a) on the ground that no relevant records could be found. On 9 September 2021 the applicant sought an internal review of the Council’s decision, following which the Council affirmed its refusal of the request. On 11 January 2022, the applicant applied to this Office for a review of the Council’s decision.

During the course of the review, the Investigating Officer provided the applicant with details of the Council’s submission wherein it outlined the searches undertaken to locate the records sought and invited him to make a submission on the matter. While the applicant sought an extension of the time to make submissions, no such submissions were received by this Office.

I have now completed my review in accordance with section 22(2) of the FOI Act.  In carrying out my review, I have had regard to the correspondence between the applicant and the Council and to the correspondence between this Office and both parties on the matter. I have decided to conclude this review by way of a formal, binding decision.

Scope of Review

This review is concerned solely with whether the Council was justified in refusing access, under section 15(1)(a) of the Act, to the applicant’s housing file and related records.

Analysis and Findings

Section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act provides for the refusal of a request where the records sought do not exist or cannot be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain their whereabouts have been taken. In such cases, the role of this Office is to review the decision of the FOI 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 and I must assess the adequacy of the searches conducted by the FOI body in looking for relevant records.

As I have outlined above, the Council provided this Office with details of searches it undertook in an effort to locate relevant records and of its reasons for concluding that no relevant records exist. While I do not propose to repeat those details in full here, I confirm that I have had regard to them for the purpose of this review.

In short, the Council explained its process for the creation of housing records, as well as storage of related records within its onsite and offsite facilities as well as storage within electronic files. It explained that all housing applications as well as the progress of those applications are stored electronically under the database called iHouse.

The Council provided details of the searches undertaken. It explained that after its initial search produced no results, it asked the applicant to provide his PPSN number and date of birth. It said it carried out further searches using those details but it was unable to locate any records of a housing request submitted by the applicant in any of its onsite or offsite facilities, or within its electronic database. After the search, the Council determined that the applicant does not have an active housing application.

The Council also explained that it executed a search within the destruction certificates of closed housing applications and no records were located.

The Council confirmed it conducted searches within the following sections:

  • Social Inclusion & Homelessness
  • Post Tenancy & Estate Management
  • Assessments, Allocations & Homeless Services

As I have outlined above, while the Investigating Officer invited the applicant to make submissions in response to the Council’s submissions, no such submissions were made, apart from a request to extend the deadline for replying, which was granted. As things stand, the applicant has provided this Office with no evidence to suggest that he ever made an application for housing to the Council.

In the circumstances, and having considered the details of the searches undertaken by the Council and its explanation as to why no relevant records could be found, I am satisfied that the Council has carried out all reasonable steps in an effort to locate the records sought in this case. Accordingly, I find that the Council was justified in refusing, under section 15(1)(a) of the Act, the applicant’s request for a copy of his housing file on the ground that no such records exist or can be found.

Decision

Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the FOI Act, I hereby affirm the Council’s decision to refuse, under section 15(1)(a), the applicant’s request for a copy of his housing file on the basis that no such records exist or can found after all reasonable steps to ascertain their whereabouts have been taken.

Right of Appeal

Section 24 of the FOI Act sets out detailed provisions for an appeal to the High Court by a party to a review, or any other person affected by the decision. In summary, such an appeal, normally on a point of law, must be initiated not later than four weeks after notice of the decision was given to the person bringing the appeal.

Stephen Rafferty

Senior Investigator