FOI fees difficult to justify, committee hears
Last hearing on FOI Bill comes before Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform
Committee chairman Ciaran Lynch said today's hearing would give the committee an international perspective on standards and trends.
Charging fees for freedom of information requests is difficult to justify, the Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform heard today.
Ed Hammond of the Centre for Public Scrutiny, a UK charity which promotes transparency and accountability in the public sector and among publicly-funded service providers, addressed the committee via a video link as it concluded its hearings on the general scheme of the Freedom of Information Bill 2012.
Mr Hammond noted there has never been a fees regime for FOI requests in the UK, adding that this was partially because “the benefits are marginal”.
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The argument is really that the amount it costs to establish a system of fees and to collect fees, the amount that you’re charging individual people is so low that it’s not especially cost effective to do that,” he said.
However, he said the argument against fees was more a philosophical one: “This is public data, this is data that should be public anyway.
“ The justification for having a fees regime is very, very difficult to support because although arguably you’re saying that the fee is to cut the cost, part of the duty of a public body or public organisation should be to respond to requests for information from public, recognising that the public have a stake in that organisation as citizens. It’s about the relationship between citizen and state ultimately.”
He said that, in not charging fees those who might not otherwise have adequate resources to make FOI requests could still avail of the legislation.
Mr Hammond says that the freedom of information should be part of a broader regime of openness and government transparency where public institutions publish information as a matter of course.
In Ireland an upfront fee of €15 is charged for non-personal freedom of information requests while a reduced €10 fee applies for medial card holders. Search and retrieval fees of €20.95 per hour may apply.
Under the proposed legislation the cost of internal review would be reduced from €75 to €30 while appeal fees would be reduced from €150 to €50.