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Changes to FOI Law and COVID: What do RSLs Need to Know?

Changes to FOI Law and COVID: What do RSLs Need to Know?

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for everyone. However as lockdowns lift and vaccines begin to take effect, the Scottish Government has begun to walk back some changes in law made to accommodate the impact of the pandemic through the: Coronavirus (Extension and Expiry) (Scotland) Act 2021.

What does the Act Change?

The Act repeals a number of provisions contained in Coronavirus legislation passed in 2020 and, in particular, reverses some of the leniency around FOI compliance.

Under changes to the law made as a result of COVID-19 the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) was given the ability to find that a public authority had not missed the 20 working day response deadline under FOI where the delay was attributable to the impact that COVID-19 had on the authority.

On 30 September 2021 this will change. SIC will no longer have this discretionary power in respect of requests made on or after 01 October 2021.

What do RSLs need to do?

As the SIC’s report on RSLs compliance with FOI highlights the majority of RSLs are coping well with their obligations under FOI and are generally able to meet the legal deadlines. This is despite the challenging circumstances the pandemic has presented.

However, if your organisation:

  • might struggle accessing information due to office closures; or
  • has staff who would previously have handled FOI requests working in other business areas in response to the pandemic

then you should put plans in place now to ensure you can meet the deadlines under FOI.

If you need any advice or assistance in respect of your obligations under FOI please contact our team.

Written by : Eileen Barr