Case number: OIC-123864-H4T3H7
4 November 2022
The applicant was employed by a Citizens Information Centre (the company). The company is a company limited by guarantee and is a registered charitable organisation. It is one of a number of such companies that receives its funding from the CIB, subject to a service level agreement. It appears the applicant was on long-term leave and had discussions with the company in 2020 in order to facilitate her return to work. The company was in contact with the CIB regarding the securing of additional funding to facilitate the company’s staffing needs. According to the CIB, all human resource and industrial relations matters relating to the company fall outside of the service level agreement in place.
On 11 January 2022, the applicant applied to the CIB for a statement of reasons under the FOI Act for certain decisions taken by the CIB in connection with her return to work in 2020. Specifically, she sought a statement of reasons in respect of the following:
On 8 February 2022, the CIB refused to provide the statement sought on the ground that the decisions regarding the applicant’s employment were made by the company and not the CIB. It said that while it funds and supports the network of Citizens Information Services, they are their own legal entities, overseen by a board of directors. It said all human resource and industrial relations matters lie outside of the service level agreement in place with the CIB and that it does not involve itself in operational decisions surrounding the employment of staff of the Citizens Information Services. The CIB also noted that section 10(12) of the Act provides that an application under section 10 must be made within 12 months after the date on which the person who is affected by the act becomes aware of it.
On 24 February 2022, the applicant sought an internal review of that decision. Among other things, she argued that decisions made by the company are not truly independent if the company can only approve a request for reasonable accommodation based on a funding application to the CIB, citing the business needs and reasons for its application. She also argued that it was unduly harsh to refuse a request on the grounds of section 10(12) where the decisions of a public body have had serious consequences on her.
On 21 March 2022, the CIB affirmed its original decision. CIB said it investigated any applications it received for additional funding from the company in 2020 and said it was in active consideration for additional funding in relation to the role. It said no decision was made on this funding, as it did not receive a formal application. It said the decisions outlined in the application for a statement of reasons relate to decisions that were all made by the company and that it was unable to comment on the reason for these decisions. On 22 May 2022, the applicant sought a review by this Office of the CIB’s decision.
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 correspondence between the CIB and the applicant as outlined above and to correspondence between this Office and both the CIB and the applicant on the matter. I have decided to conclude this review by way of a formal, binding decision.
This review is concerned solely with whether the CIB was justified in its decision to refuse to provide the statement of reasons sought in this case.
This Office has no remit to investigate complaints, to adjudicate on how FOI bodies perform their functions generally, or to act as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism with respect to actions taken by FOI bodies. Neither does this Office’s remit extend to examining the appropriateness or otherwise of the particular act(s) or decision(s) for which statements of reasons are sought.
Section 10 provides that a person who is affected by an act of an FOI body, and has a material interest in a matter affected by the act or to which it relates, is entitled to a statement of reasons for the act as well as a statement of any findings on any material issues of fact made for the purposes of that act. Paragraph (a) of subsection 12 provides that an application under section 10 must be made within 12 months after the date on which the person who is affected by the act becomes aware of it. Paragraph (b) of subsection 12 provides that, notwithstanding paragraph (a), where the particular circumstances warrant it, the public body may accept an application outside the time limit specified in that paragraph.
The CIB said that the events detailed in the applicant’s request occurred between April 2020 and December 2020. It said that due to the nature of the events it is clear that the applicant was aware of the events as they unfolded. It said that as the request was made more than twelve months after the acts occurred and as the applicant was aware of the events as they occurred it refused the request under section 10(12)(a).
The events described in the applicant’s request occurred in 2020. The applicant submitted her application for a statement of reasons in January 2022. I am satisfied that the nature of the acts or decisions for which statements of reasons are sought are such that the applicant would have been aware of the acts as they occurred or shortly thereafter. It appears that the applicant does not dispute this. Instead, she argued that the statements of reasons should be granted regardless as the acts had serious consequences for her.
I note that the discretion to accept a late application under section 10 rests with the FOI body “where the particular circumstances warrant it”. I am not satisfied that the applicant’s argument, namely that the acts had serious consequences for her, can reasonably be described as circumstances that warrant the acceptance of a late application in this case.
I would add, in any event, that it seems to me that the majority of the acts or decisions identified by the applicant are not acts or decisions that would qualify as relevant acts for the purposes of section 10. To be entitled to a statement of reasons for an act of an FOI body, an applicant must be affected by the act and must have a material interest in a matter
affected by the act or to which it relates. There will be many instances where a number of secondary actions/decisions are taken in the course of making a substantive decision which affects a person and where that person has a material interest in a matter affected by that substantive decision or to which it relates. While the person may be entitled to a statement of reasons for the substantive decision, the Commissioner considers that section 10 does not entitle a person affected by the substantive decision to a statement of reasons in respect of each and every action which was taken in arriving at that decision.
Having regard to the particular circumstances arising in this case, I find that CIB was justified, pursuant to section 10(12)(a) of the FOI Act, in refusing to provide the statements of reasons sought.
Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the FOI Act, I hereby affirm the CIB’s decision to refuse, pursuant to section 10(12)(a) of the FOI Act, to provide a number of statements of reasons regarding the applicant’s phased return to work.
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.