Guidance for Staff 

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 allows the public right of access to any information held by, or on behalf of, public authorities, including Cardiff Metropolitan University.  The public now has the opportunity to request information so that they can better understand how the University makes decisions, spends its resources and how it carries out its work.  Cardiff Metropolitan University and its associated activities, including its subsidiary companies, will all be open to increased public scrutiny.

Cardiff Metropolitan University needs to:

  • Produce, publish and maintain a Publication Scheme.
  • Handle individual requests for any other information - subject to exemptions.
  • Handle individual requests for any other environmental information - subject to exceptions.
  • Advise and assist someone who has made or wants to make a request.
  • Tell the person making the request if the University has the information they've asked for and, if so, communicate that information to them. 

Please get in touch if:

  • There is any other information that you would like to see included on these pages.
  • You would like to arrange an awareness or training session.
  • You need some specific advice or assistance.

 
You can contact:  Siân Newton, Access to Information Officer, Llandaff Campus - Room M1.05, Ext 6076, snewton@cardiffmet.ac.uk.

What is a Publication Scheme?

Despite its name, a Publication Scheme is a list of the classes of information that the University routinely publishes, rather than a list of documents or publications.  All the information that is currently published, whether on the website or in a leaflet or other publication, needs to be included in the Publication Scheme, as should any information that the University would be happy to make available on request.  Cardiff Metropolitan University adopted and modified the model scheme which was produced for the higher education sector and this means that it must also include all the information that it has which fits in each class.  It is also important that the University includes in the Scheme, any information that it makes available at a cost, otherwise it may not be possible to continue to make that charge.  Certain environmental information should also be available through the Publication Scheme - including policies and plans, progress reports, agreements, risk assessments and monitoring data.

Cardiff Metropolitan University's policies, procedures, rules, regulations and guidance will now generally be available to students and to the public - either in the Publication Scheme or supplied in response to an individual request - and the University may be asked to explain how they have been applied in a particular case.  It is important, therefore, that all staff use and adhere to the most recent version.

What is a valid request?

All requests for information received by Cardiff Metropolitan University should be treated as Freedom of Information requests in the first instance.  A valid request could come from anyone, from anywhere in the world and could be addressed to any part of the university or to any person.

A request needs to:

  • Be made in writing, although requests for environmental information can be made verbally or by other means.
  • Include the name and address of the person making the request.
  • Describe the information which they are requesting.

and may ask for the information to be supplied in a particular format.

The person making the request is not obliged to cite the Act or explain why they want the information and the University is not allowed to ask what use they intend making of the information that they've requested.

What information does the Act cover?

Information is covered by the Act, no matter how old it is, but it needs to be recorded (as a Word document, in a database, as a leaflet, on a post-it note, as an email, in the form of a photograph, etc) and held by, or on behalf of Cardiff Metropolitan University (regardless of whether it was created by the University or by another person or organisation).

If you collect information from third parties, such as contractors, you should make them aware that the information that they supply may need to be disclosed in response to a request.  External examiners should be made aware that their reports will normally be disclosed if a request is received.  Careful consideration needs to be given to accepting confidentiality clauses and all such clauses should specify what information is confidential and for how long confidentiality should be maintained.

It is also important to note that the Act applies to 'information' rather than to documents or publications.  Cardiff Metropolitan University may need to collate information from a number of different places, remove information that it considers to be exempt from a document or produce a summary in order to respond to a request.

It is an offence to alter or destroy information once a request for it has been received.

What is environmental information?

The definition of environmental information is very wide and includes:

  • The state of the elements of the environment (including air, air in buildings, atmosphere, water, soil, land, landscape and natural sites, bio diversity and its components) and the interaction among these elements.
  • Factors affecting, or likely to affect, the elements of the environment listed above (including substances, energy, noise, radiation or waste, emissions and discharges).
  • Measures, including administrative measures, affecting, or likely to affect, the elements and factors listed above and measures or activities designed to protect the elements (including policies, legislation, plans, programmes, agreements and activities).
  • Reports on the implementation of environmental legislation.
  • Cost benefit and other economic analyses and assumptions used within the framework of the measures and activities above.
  • The state of human health and safety (including the condition of human life, contamination of the food chain, cultural sites and built structures) that are or may be affected by the elements, factors or measures listed above.
  • The regulations also apply to any information that the University may be holding on behalf of another organisation or individual.

Does the Act mean that we should disclose any information that is requested?

No.  There are a number of exemptions in the Act which are designed to protect information that shouldn't be generally available.  This might be information that has been supplied in confidence, personal information about staff or students or information that would damage Cardiff Metropolitan University's commercial interests if it was disclosed.  If the information has been obtained from a third party or if disclosure may affect their interests, the University may need to consult that third party, although the final decision will be made by Cardiff Metropolitan University.  The Act also allows the University to refuse repeated or vexatious requests, as well as to choose to refuse those that would involve a lot of work.  If you are thinking of refusing a request you will need to be sure that there is an exemption that applies and, in most cases, you will also need to consider where the public interest lies.  If you refuse a request you will need to issue a formal Refusal Notice and your reply should also include a copy of the Complaints Procedure.

It may be hard to justify refusing to disclose information about how Cardiff Metropolitan University:

  • Makes decisions - the decision making process, a record of decisions.
  • Spends its resources.
  • Carries out its work.

All staff should ensure that any decisions that they make are adequately documented, including the information that was considered and any other reasons for the decisions.

Do the Regulations mean that we should disclose any environmental information that is requested?

No.  There are a number of exceptions in the Regulations which are designed to protect information that shouldn't be generally available.  This might be information that has been supplied in confidence, information that is covered by intellectual property legislation, internal communications or information that would damage the environment if it was disclosed.  There are also exceptions which would allow Cardiff Metropolitan University to refuse requests for information which is in the course of completion or requests that are unreasonable.  If you are thinking of refusing a request for environmental information you will need to be sure that there is an exception that applies and, in all cases, you will also need to consider where the public interest lies.

What advice and assistance may I need to give?

Cardiff Metropolitan University needs to provide 'reasonable' advice and assistance, so it will need to look at the circumstances of each case and give each applicant enough help to enable them to make a request and to describe the information they want in sufficient detail.  This may just mean sending a telephone caller the How to Request Information from Cardiff Metropolitan University Guide, although it could also involve suggesting information that might be available.  The University may also need to make a record of a request if an applicant has difficulty making a written request.  If the applicant has not described the information that they are requesting in sufficient detail or if the request is ambiguous, the University can contact them to explain that it needs more details.  Although it may help in locating information if Cardiff Metropolitan University knows why the applicant wants it, remember that it is not obliged to tell you.

How should information be communicated and what can the applicant do with it?

The person making the request has the right to specify how they would like the information communicated to them.  They can ask for a copy, the opportunity to visit Cardiff Metropolitan University to see the information or for a summary.  Information should be communicated in accordance with this preference if it is reasonable to do so.

The Freedom of Information Act only gives a right of access to information - there is no new automatic right to use that information.  The University's Publication Scheme, any information made available through the Scheme or in response to individual requests will still be subject to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.  If you release information think about including a copyright statement.

What should I do if someone asks me for information?

Requests should be acknowledged within 5 working days, unless the information requested is supplied to the applicant within that period.  If the request is for information that you would normally make available then you should respond as you would usually - but make sure that you are supplying all the information within 20 working days.  If the request does cite the Act please send a copy to the Secretariat Unit and make sure that your reply includes a reference to the complaints procedure.

If the request is non-routine you may be able to reply yourself but you may need to ask for advice or forward the request to the Secretariat Unit, particularly if you want to refuse all or part of the request.  If you decide to reply yourself you should make sure that you have the authority to release the information.  Authorisation to disclose information can be obtained from the appropriate Information Custodian, who will usually be the senior member of staff in the department.  Please send a copy of the request and your reply to the Secretariat Unit and make sure that you respond within 20 working days and that your reply includes a reference to our complaints procedure.  You could also include a copyright statement.

If you are replying to a verbal request you may want to indicate that additional information may be located if the applicant makes a formal, written request - particularly if the request is very general or is at all ambiguous.  If you decide to refuse a verbal request you should inform the applicant that the University would give further consideration to applying an exemption if a formal request were made.

Template letters are available to help you respond to requests.

If the request is for a lot of information or if it would take a lot of work to find the information we may be able to charge a fee.  Please ask for advice.

It is a statutory requirement that we respond to requests within 20 working days, so it's important that requests are identified and dated as soon as they arrive, even if the member of staff to whom they are addressed is absent.  This will give us as much time as possible to locate the information and consider any exemptions and public interest factors that may apply.

A report on compliance with access to information legislation, including details of the information that was requested and disclosed in the previous year, is made annually to VCB.

Can I make a request for information?

Yes.  Any member of staff can make a request to Cardiff Metropolitan University, or to any other public authority, on behalf of themselves or any company or organisation with which they are involved.  If you do want to request information from Cardiff Metropolitan University and intend to use internal mail, or your email account, your request will only be treated as a Freedom of Information request if you indicate that it is a personal request outside your duties for Cardiff Metropolitan University.  Staff who want to make a request to another public authority (another university, a council, a government department, the police etc) on behalf of  Cardiff Metropolitan University should ask for advice on framing their request.

What would happen if  Cardiff Metropolitan University received a request for information about a member of staff?

We would normally disclose the following information about a member of staff acting in their official or work capacity:

  • Name
  • Job title and function
  • Grade
  • Pay band and senior staff salaries
  • Expenses claimed
  • Responsibility for specified decisions

We would normally refuse to disclose the following information about the private life of a member of staff:

  • Home address
  • Personal financial details
  • Internal disciplinary matters

The member of staff concerned will usually be informed before any information, other than their name and job title, is disclosed.  If the University thinks the information may be exempt, it would normally consult the member of staff before replying and may release information that it considers to be exempt if the person consents.

Awareness and Training

Some of Cardiff Metropolitan University's training sessions include:

  • Access to Information: Awareness Raising - covering the Freedom of Information Act, the Data Protection Act and the Environmental Information Regulations.
  • Data Protection Act and Workshop.
  • Freedom of Information Act and Workshop.

The Secretariat Unit would be happy to organise additional sessions, with individuals or groups, to speak at an Away Day etc.  Just get in touch for help.