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Freedom of Information
Everyone has the right under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000 to request information held by public sector organisations. Along with this Act, one other piece of legislation governs people's right to access public sector information:
The Data Protection Act (DPA) 1998 protects your personal information and makes sure it isn't misused. It gives you the right, in most cases, to find out what information is held about you
Note: For the purposes of the above legislation, RPTS is a tribunal non-Departmental Public Body sponsored in Government by Communities and Local Government. It has no legal status of its own, It is the umbrella organisation for the five Rent Assessment Panels that constitute it, all of which have a separate legal identity from the sponsoring department.
The right to access information came into force on 1st January 2005. From that date onwards, you have been entitled, on making a request in writing, to be informed in writing whether the RPTS holds the information you have requested, and to have that information communicated to you. There are however categories of information described in the Act that may be exempt from disclosure, and the right of access may not extend to these. Each request will be considered on its own merits.
Upon receipt of a valid request RPTS has to provide that information to you within a 20-day time limit, and there may be charges associated with processing requests. The right to charge remains at the discretion of the RPTS and applicants will be advised of any charges upon receipt of a request.
If you would like to request information from us, the following section covers the type of information that we hold, information that is already available and how to request further information from us. It also covers how to find out if we hold any personal information about you.
BEFORE MAKING YOUR REQUEST
We already make a lot of information available to you. Before you request information from us, please try the three steps listed below. If you still cannot find what you are looking for, then you can make a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
- Search our website for the information
- Check our Publication Scheme
- Find out if we have already released the information
HOW TO MAKE A REQUEST
This section covers how to make a request for information under
Making your request
All requests should be should be made in writing (letter, fax or email) to the RPTS Corporate Unit.
Residential Property Tribunal Service,
10 Alfred Place,
Fax: 0207 580 5684
When you send us your request, please do the following:
- Be specific
You will get the information faster if you help us identify the exact information you require. It will also mean that your
request is less likely to be turned down on cost grounds. Make sure that you:
- are specific about exactly what information you want;
- provide us with a narrow, tightly focussed request, and
- provide, where appropriate, a relevant time frame e.g. 2004 - 2005 or November 2004 to February 2005.
- Let us know how you want the information
- How would you like the information sent to you, e.g. by post, email or by a visit to the office to inspect the information? Let us know when you make your request and we will meet your preference when we can.
- Provide your contact details
- We may have to get in touch with you to discuss your request. It would be helpful if you could tell us in your request how you would prefer us to contact you should we need to offer you any advice or assistance.
1. Requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act
You can ask for any information under the FOIA. If you ask for information we hold about you, then your request will be handled under the DPA instead of the FOIA.
RPTS must supply information within 20 working days of your request, if possible. If not, we will write to you explaining the reasons for the delay. We will keep you informed about the progress of your request.
The FOIA allows some information to be withheld, to protect various interests. If this is the case with the information you have requested, we will give you a refusal in writing, along with the reasons for refusal and details of your right to appeal.
Areas of information for which exemptions may apply include (but are not limited to):
- Information publicly accessible by other means
- Court records, including tribunals
- national security and defence
- law enforcement
- advice to Ministers in the formulation of policy
- effective conduct of public affairs
- commercial interests
Some exemptions are held to be absolute under the Act - the information cannot be released under any circumstances. But most require a 'public interest' test to be applied first, before the information can be withheld. This means that if it is considered to be in the public interest, the information will be released.
Read advice about your rights and responsibilities under the FOIA at http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/RightsAndResponsibilities/DG_4003239
Read further information about the FOIA on the Ministry of Justice http://www.justice.gov.uk/guidance/guidancefoi.htm
2. Requests for information under the Data Protection Act
Under the DPA you have the right to find out whether we hold any information about you, and if so, what it is. The Act also prohibits the misuse of your personal details.
The DPA includes eight principles, which govern how your personal information is used. It must be:
- fairly and lawfully processed
- processed for limited purposes
- adequate, relevant and not excessive
- not kept longer than necessary
- processed in accordance with your rights
- kept secure
- not transferred abroad without adequate protection
The Act provides stronger protection for sensitive information such as political opinions, religious beliefs, sexual life and criminal history.
The RPTS must supply information within 40 days of your request.
In certain circumstances, you have the right to prevent further processing of your personal details, or to order the correction, blocking or erasing of inaccurate data. You may also claim compensation for any distress caused by a breach of the Act.
If you want to ask whether we hold any personal information about you, please note the following:
- You will need to supply proof of your identity. This should include a photocopy of the identification pages of your current passport or of a current photo driving licence; and the original of a current utilities (e.g. electricity) bill, or credit card or bank statement, which includes your name and current address. This can be returned to you if required.
- It would also help us to narrow our search if you could tell us which office you believe might hold personal data on you. If you are not sure which office(s) might hold the information, please tell us the context in which you have had dealings with us.
- We may charge a fee for this service.
We may withhold access to your information where we have the right to do so under the Data Protection Act
The FOIA provides for public authorities to either charge for or decline requests for information that would cost a public authority more than £450 to deal with the request.
This is referred to as the appropriate limit. Public authorities are required to estimate whether a request is likely to breach the 'appropriate limit'.
Most requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) are free, however you might be asked to pay a small amount for making photocopies or postage.
If we think it will cost us more than £450 to find the information and prepare it for release, we can turn down your request, or ask you to narrow it down.
The Data Protection Act (DPA) fees are slightly different. These can be charged up to a maximum of £10 in most cases. Checking what information is held about you by credit reference agencies costs £2.
Fee limits under the FOIA
There are two types of fees that can be charged:
- Prescribed costs : which cover finding, sorting or editing the material. A standard hourly rate of £25 per person is used to estimate these. We will always provide information free of charge where the estimated cost of retrieving and collating the material requested is less than £450
- Disbursements : which cover things like printing, photocopying or postage. These fees may be charged in all cases, regardless of whether the fee limit for the prescribed costs (£450) is reached. No charge will be made for disbursements where the cost is below £25
If the prescribed costs are over £450 we will let you know, and try to help you narrow down the request so that a fee may not be applicable. If you do not wish to do this, we may refuse to supply the information or charge you the full fee.
If you need to pay a fee, we will send you a 'fees notice' letting you know the amount you will need to pay before we can provide the information you want. If you do not pay the fee within three months, we will contact you to let you know that your request has lapsed. But if you pay the fee we will then gather the information and provide it, subject to any relevant exemptions.
NOTE: The 20-day 'clock' stops when a fee notice is issued and only starts again once the fee is received.
Read detailed guidance about FOI fees on the Ministry of Justice website http://www.justice.gov.uk/guidance/guidancefoi.htm
The RPTS Publication Scheme
The Government Department sponsoring RPTS is Communities and Local Government (CLG). RPTS has signed up to CLGs Publication Scheme. Further information and a downloadable copy of the departmental Publication Scheme are available at http://www.communities.gov.uk/corporate/foi/publicationscheme. It is however envisaged that RPTS will adopt the Information Commissioners Model Publication scheme by January 2009.
Complaints about the outcome of an FOI or DPA request
If you are unhappy with the outcome of your request for information, or the way we handled your request, then you have the right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner at:
Information Commissioner's Office,
Cheshire SK9 5AF
Or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.