Case number: OIC-108607-R7N7Y3
The applicant in this case is a former Revenue employee who was pursuing a payment in lieu of untaken annual leave following the termination of her contract. The payment was subsequently made. In June 2020, she obtained a copy of a note that had been attached to her file to indicate that there should be no payment for annual leave.
In a request dated 12 March 2021, she sought access to further information regarding the note to block payment. On 8 April 2021, Revenue refused the request under section 15(1)(a) on the ground that no records containing any such further information sought exist or could be found.
The applicant sought an internal review of that decision on 16 April 2021, in which she again referenced the note on her file. On 11 May 2021, Revenue affirmed its original decision. It stated that the note the applicant referred to in her correspondence had already been released to her on foot of a previous request and refused access to same under section 15(1)(i), which allows for the refusal of a request where the records sought have previously been released.
On 8 June 2021, the applicant sought a review by this Office of Revenue’s decision to refuse access to records containing further information regarding the note. She noted that the record released indicates that an instruction was issued that there should be no pay, and essentially argued that a record should exist that would indicate who issued the instruction.
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 communications between Revenue and the applicant referred to above and to communications between this Office and both parties on the matter. I have decided to conclude this review by way of a formal, binding decision.
This review is concerned solely with whether Revenue was justified in refusing to grant access, under section 15(1)(a) of the Act, to records containing further information regarding a note to block payment for annual leave that was attached to the applicant’s file on the ground that no relevant records exist or can be found, having taken all reasonable steps to ascertain their whereabouts.
Section 15(1)(a) of the FOI Act provides that a request for access to records may be refused if the records sought either do not exist or cannot be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain their whereabouts have been taken. The Commissioner’s role in such cases is to review the decision of the FOI body and to decide whether the decision was justified. This Office must have regard to the evidence available to the decision maker in arriving at his/her decision. The evidence in “search” cases generally consists of the steps actually taken to search for the records along with miscellaneous other information about the record management practices of the FOI body, insofar as those practices relate to the records in question.
During the course of the review, Revenue provided submissions to this Office in which it outlined details of the searches carried out and of its explanation as to why no relevant records could be found. As this Office has already provided the applicant with those details, I do not propose to repeat them in full here. In short, Revenue’s position is that the note ‘No Payment’ relates to a case summary entered by a PeoplePoint case worker processing the case pending further instructions from Revenue HR, and there are no records containing further information relating to this note as this was done based on general standing instructions issued from Revenue HR to PeoplePoint in February 2018, and no particular individual instructed the specific note be added to the applicant’s case file.
Revenue stated in its submission that it contacted both PeoplePoint and the National Shared Services Office (the NSSO) in relation to this case to determine whether any relevant records containing the further information sought by the applicant could be found. It stated that the NSSO confirmed that case workers record relevant communications with Revenue as notes on the system, which often includes copying in whole emails as relevant. Revenue stated that the NSSO confirmed that, as there was no case-specific instruction from Revenue at the time the note was made, there is no additional case-specific record relating to the case. It stated that nevertheless searches were conducted in a number of Revenue areas and on its electronic systems for any relevant records, but none were located.
Revenue further noted that the PeoplePoint records released to the applicant in response to her previous request were created by and are held by PeoplePoint. It said that these records were provided to Revenue by PeoplePoint and as such are held by Revenue on this basis. Revenue stated that the note referred to by the applicant on one of the PeoplePoint records was input by a PeoplePoint caseworker as part of their Exit Case management system. It stated that there is no record of such a note held in Revenue’s systems. Revenue further stated that the NSSO confirmed that Revenue HR can only view the case descriptions and case status on the PeoplePoint Case Management System. Revenue stated that its HR cannot see any notes on the cases as they are marked “Internal” and only viewed by NSSO case workers. It stated that the note was input by the PeoplePoint caseworker as no case-specific instruction was received from Revenue.
In her subsequent submissions to this Office, the applicant contended that as the note contained the title ‘Reply from Line Manager’ there should be records containing further information and this contradicted Revenue’s assertion that the PeoplePoint case worker entered the note based on general standing instructions to be applied to all cases involving Revenue workers.
I note that the investigator assigned to this case contacted PeoplePoint in order to clarify this particular matter. PeoplePoint stated in correspondence with this Office that the note was created on foot of an internal process whereby PeoplePoint would contact the line manager of the employee in order to confirm the employee's annual leave entitlements before seeking approval from HR for dealing with any untaken leave. It said that the reply from the line manager would have been to confirm that the leave entitlement was correct, as the caseworker then applied the standard practice and made the note that stated no payment to be made per the standing instructions from Revenue. PeoplePoint noted that due to the character limits of subject headings for notes, full detail could not be included. It stated that, in essence, the record only noted that no payment was to be made, but as it was attached to a reply that the leave record was correct, it may have caused some confusion without context of what was contained in the record. This information was forwarded to the applicant and she was invited to made a further submission based on the new information provided. No such submission has been received to date.
Having considered the details of the searches undertaken and its explanation as to why no relevant records exist or can be found, I am satisfied that Revenue has taken all reasonable steps in an effort to ascertain the whereabouts of relevant records. I find, therefore, that Revenue was justified in refusing access to any relevant records on the ground that no such 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 Freedom of Information Act 2014, I hereby affirm the decision of Revenue to refuse, under section 15(1)(a) of the Act, the applicant’s request for records containing further information regarding a note to block payment for annual leave that was attached to the applicant’s file on the ground that no 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.