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Mr E and The Health Service Executive (FOI Act 2014)

Case Number: 170094

Whether the HSE was justified in its decision to charge a fee of €420 for the search and retrieval of records relating to complaints about addiction services in North Dublin

Conducted in accordance with section 22(2) of the FOI Act by Stephen Rafferty, Senior Investigator, who is authorised by the Information Commissioner to conduct this review

Background

On 1 December 2016, the applicant submitted a request to the HSE for a copy of all complaints from staff and service users made since 2012 about addiction services in all areas of "Dublin North of the Liffey", and all replies and correspondence connected with these complaints.

On 12 December 2016, the HSE informed the applicant that it had estimated the cost of searching for and retrieving relevant records to be €420, on the basis that processing the request would require the services of a number of staff for 21 hours, and it sought a deposit of €84. The HSE also offered the applicant the opportunity to explore amending his request in order to reduce or eliminate the estimated search and retrieval fees. On 15 December 2016, the applicant sought a review of the decision to charge a deposit in relation the estimated fee of €420, following which the HSE affirmed its decision.

The applicant sought a review by this Office of the HSE's decision on 22 February 2017. I note that Ms Lydia Buckley of this Office wrote to the applicant on 20 April 2017, providing details of the basis on which the HSE had estimated that 21 hours would be required to process the request, and outlined her view that the HSE was justified in its decision to charge a deposit of €84, based on an estimated fee of €420. She invited the applicant to make a further submission on the matter. As no response has been received, I consider that this review should now be brought to a close by a formal, binding decision.

In conducting this review, I have had regard to the correspondence between the HSE and the applicant, as outlined above, and to communications between this Office and both the applicant and the HSE on the matter.

Scope of Review

This review is solely concerned with the question of whether the HSE was justified in its decision to charge a fee of €420 for the search and retrieval of records relating to complaints made since 2012 in respect of addiction services in North Dublin.

Analysis and Findings

Section 27(1) of the FOI Act provides for the mandatory charging of fees by FOI bodies for the estimated cost of the search for, and retrieval and copying of, records (SRC charge). Under section 27(2), the search for and retrieval of records includes time spent by the body in
(a) determining whether it holds the information requested,
(b) locating the information or documents containing the information,
(c) retrieving such information or documents,
(d) extracting the information from the files, documents, electronic or other information sources containing both it and other material not relevant to the request, and
(e) preparing a schedule specifying the records for consideration for release.

The SRC charge is calculated at a prescribed amount per hour in respect of time that was spent, or ought, in the opinion of the body, to have been spent in carrying out the search for and retrieval of the records efficiently. This amount is currently set at €20 per hour under the Freedom of Information Act 2014 (Fees) (No. 2) Regulations 2014 [S.I. No. 531 of 2014].

Under section 27(5), where the estimated SRC charge is likely to exceed the prescribed minimum level, currently set at €101 under S.I. No. 531 of 2014, the FOI body must charge a deposit of at least 20% of the cost.

As I have outlined above, Ms Buckley of this Office provided the applicant with a detailed breakdown of the basis on which the HSE had estimated the time required to process the request at 21 hours. She also provided the applicant with details of the steps that the HSE considered would be required to search for and retrieve all relevant records, and information about the different locations in which the records are stored. While I do not propose to repeat those details here, I can confirm that I have had regard to them for the purposes of this decision. In summary, the HSE argued that the applicant's request is broad and covers a 5 year period and that relevant records are located across a number of different healthcare facilities and are held in both electronic and hardcopy format.

Where a public body gives reasons for its estimate which indicate that there was a reasonable basis for the calculation of the fee decided upon by it, this Office in not generally inclined to interfere with that decision. In this case, I am satisfied that the HSE has provided a reasonable basis on which it has estimated the SRC fee at €420.

Decision

Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the FOI Act, I hereby affirm the decision of the HSE to charge a fee of €420 under section 27 of the FOI Act.

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