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Obtaining reasons for decisions made by a council about you
Q: Can I find out why the council has made a decision about me?
A: Yes; there is a general means of obtaining information about decisions made by a council about you.
Section 22 of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA) provides a right of access by a person to reasons for decisions affecting that person.
In brief, when a territorial authority (council) makes a decision about you, you have a right to know:
- The decision
- The information upon which it was based
- The reason for the decision
You can then decide if the information is correct and decide to ask the council to review the decision.
Section 22 of the Act states:
- Subject to sections 6, 7(2)(b), 8, and 44 of this Act, where a local authority makes, on or after the 1st day of March 1988, a decision or recommendation in respect of any person, being a decision or recommendation in respect of that person in that person’s personal capacity, that person has the right to and shall, on request made within a reasonable time of the making of the decision or recommendation, be given a written statement of –
- The findings on material issues of fact; and
- Subject to subsection (1A) of this section, a reference to the information on which the findings were based; and
- The reasons for the decision or recommendation.
Q: What is the maximum timeframe for responding to Official Information requests, if the responding body has asked for more time without specifying a time-frame?
A: OIA information states that this time limit can be extended for a “reasonable period” if the information holder needs more time, but does not specify what a reasonable period is.
The Ombudsmen’s OIA Guidelines say this:
A decision on the request must be made within 20 working days of the request unless the agency extends the time for answering. Section 15A of the OIA provides that the time limit may be extended if:
- The request is for a large quantity of information or necessitates a search through a large quantity of information, and meeting the original time limit would unreasonably interfere with the operations of the agency; or
- Consultations which are necessary to make a decision on the request mean that a proper response to the request cannot reasonably be made within the original time limit.
Any extension of the time limit for response must be for a “reasonable period of time having regard to the circumstances”.
If an agency intends to extend the time limit for response, it must notify the requester before the expiry of the original time limit of the intention to extend the time for reply, the period of the extension, the reason for the extension and the right to make a complaint to the Ombudsman about the extension.
The Act does not allow for further extensions to be notified if the original extension cannot be met. In this regard, agencies should bear in mind that the time limits expressed in the Act are maximums. Any extension of the maximum time limit for response should be realistic, given that multiple extensions are not permitted.
If a decision is not made within 20 working days, or within the extended time frame, the request is deemed to have been refused and the requester has the right to ask an Ombudsman to investigate that deemed refusal.
Similarly, if a decision is made and the requester is notified within the statutory time limit that the information will be made available, but there is then an unreasonable delay in actually supplying the information to the requester, the request is deemed to have been refused. The requester has the right to ask an Ombudsman to investigate that deemed refusal.”
That means the agency has to specify how long the extension will be; it can’t be open-ended. If the requester thinks that the agency has chosen a limit that is not reasonable the requester can complain to the Ombudsmen. How long is reasonable will depend on what is being sought, how easily that can be retrieved and the responder’s ability to meet the request given the factors set out above.