Case number: 180473
2 April 2019
On 1 June 2018 the Council received a request from the applicant for all information it held in relation to her. On 28 June 2018 the Council issued a decision in which it granted her request and released records relating to her social housing application. Following an exchange of correspondence, the applicant sought an internal review of that decision on 19 July 2018 stating that she had proof that she had not been granted access to all relevant records.
On 1 August 2018, the Council issued a decision in which it varied its original decision and issued two further records that were located on a file relating to the landlord of the applicant's privately rented accommodation. It also noted that there was a previous application for social housing in 2012 that was subsequently destroyed. On 1 November 2018, the applicant sought a review by this Office of the Council's decision. In her application for review, she made reference to certain records that she believes should have been released to her, including records of representations made on her behalf in relation to a transfer and a request for emergency accommodation and photographic evidence she submitted to the Council in connection with her existing accommodation.
During the course of the review, the Council acknowledged that it had failed to conduct a search of its Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, an electronic system that was established for the purpose of dealing with customer enquiries, and that following a search of that system it had identified a number of records of representations made on the applicant's behalf. On 1 February 2019, it released the additional records it had located on the electronic system.
The applicant subsequently informed this Office that she had handed in photographic evidence to the Council in May 2018 and that the photographs were not included in the documents already released. This Office raised the matter with the Council who stated that the packet of photographs had been stored away with the intention of returning them to the applicant but had not been returned due to an oversight. It subsequently returned the photographs.
On 26 March 2019 Ms Hannon of this Office wrote to the applicant wherein she outlined her view that the Council was, at that stage, justified in refusing access to any additional relevant records on the ground that no additional relevant records exist or could be found and she invited the applicant to make a further submission on the matter.
As a submission has now been received, I have decided to bring this case to a close by way of a formal, binding decision. In carrying out this review, I have had regard to the correspondence between the Council and the applicant and to the communications between this Office and both the applicant and the Council on the matter.
This review is concerned with whether the Council was justified in its decision to refuse access to further records relating to the applicant under section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act, apart from those already released on foot of her request and during the course of this review.
In her correspondence with this Office, the applicant expressed concerns as to the manner in which the Council dealt with the issues arising in connection with the condition of her private rented accommodation and her transfer application. It is important to note at the outset that this Office has no role in the investigation of complaints regarding the manner in which FOI bodies perform their functions generally, or to act as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism with respect to actions taken by FOI bodies. I note, in any event, that the applicant has stated her intention to avail of the services of the Office of the Ombudsman in respect of those matters.
Section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act provides that a request for access to a record may be refused if the record does not exist or cannot be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain its whereabouts have been taken. The role of this Office in cases such as this 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 decision and I also must assess the adequacy of the searches conducted by the FOI body in looking for relevant records.
The Council provided details of the searches conducted on foot of the request that is the subject of this review. As outlined above, Ms Hannon provided the applicant with these details. While I do not propose to repeat these details in full here, I confirm that I have had regard to them for the purpose of this review.
In summary, the Council stated that both manual and electronic searches of hardcopy and electronic files in the relevant area were undertaken to locate relevant records. It said all relevant individuals were consulted and no records had been destroyed. It said through its searches it was now of the view that no further records exist in relation to the applicant. As outlined above, the Council acknowledged that it had initially failed to search its CRM system but subsequently undertook searches and released relevant records to the applicant.
The piecemeal manner in which the Council released records in this case is unfortunate and clearly gave good cause for the applicant to have concerns as to the completeness of the information released. However, having regard to the Council's description of all of the searches undertaken, I am now satisfied that it has taken all reasonable steps to locate relevant records. Accordingly, I find that the Council was justified in relying on section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act to refuse access to any additional records on the ground that no further relevant records exist or can be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain their whereabouts have been taken.
Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the FOI Act, I hereby affirm the decision of the Council to refuse access to further relevant records relating to the applicant under section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act on the ground that no further relevant records exist or can be found.
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.