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FAQs - for staff

What is the Freedom of Information Act?

The Freedom of Information Act 2000gives the public a general right to access information held by the University, as  a Public Body, subject to certain conditions and exemptions.

Who is the University Freedom of Information Officer?

The role of Freedom of Information Officer has been delegated to Alice Mineyko, Compliance Officer (extn. 4055 or email FOI_requests@aston.ac.uk).

Who do I Contact for Advice and Information?

If you have any questions relating to the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) 2000 or handling freedom of information requests please contact Alice Mineyko, Compliance Officer (extn. 4055 or email FOI_requests@aston.ac.uk).

How do members of the public access information?

There are two ways members of the public can access information held by the University using the FOI Act. The first is via the Publication Scheme which lists the types of information the University routinely makes available to the public as a matter of routine e.g. prospectuses, the Library and Learning Centre catalogue and the minutes of some committees. The second is by submitting an ‘access to information request’.

What exactly is an 'access to information request' under the Freedom of Information Act?
In principle, almost any written request (postal or electronic) for information held by the University constitutes an access to information request under the terms of the FOI Act. A requester is not obliged to mention the FOI  Act or even freedom of information. Nor are they under any legal obligation to reveal why a particular piece of information is being requested.

It is neither practical nor appropriate to classify simple enquiries, which can be handled straightforwardly in the office where they are received, as FOI requests. Therefore, letters, faxes and e-mails requesting, for example, public lecture programmes, details of academic courses of study, copies of the latest University prospectus or research reports continue to be dealt with by the appropriate Schools and departments, and are subject to the requirements of the Data Protection Act.  These do not need to be referred to the Freedom of Information Officer.

What do I do if I receive a request?

Routine requests for information should be processed in the normal course of your work. If you are not able to provide the information a requester is looking for, you should try to ensure that they are directed to the appropriate office or department.

If you receive a more complex request for information, that you are in any way unsure about, contact your line manager as soon as possible. You should generally regard a request as complex if it involves one or more of the following:

  • An explicit reference to the FOI Act or to freedom of information generally
  • Information about a living person
  • Information which may be commercially sensitive or which relates to the University's financial interests
  • Information about the University environment (e.g. buildings, grounds, waste management etc.)
  • Information which has been given in confidence
  • Information relating to health and safety issues
  • Consultation with an external body or third party (e.g. contractors, research funding bodies etc.)
  • Information which you do not hold
  • Information the provision of which is likely to require considerable staff time and departmental resources, therefore necessitating the charging of fees
  • Information held in different Schools, departments or sections of the University
  • Requests that are vexatious or may be part of an orchestrated campaign

Line managers should either arrange for a response to be made within 20 working days if appropriate or if the matter is particularly complex or sensitive refer it to the Alice Mineyko, Compliance Officer (extn. 4055 or email FOI_requests@aston.ac.uk), who will advise if they can respond directly or if a University response is required.

When is a request 'received'?

A freedom of information request is formally 'received' when it is delivered to the University post room or to the inbox of a member of staff. The FOI Act stipulates that all requests must be answered within 20 working days from the date of receipt.

What should I do if I'm away from the University and cannot 'receive' requests?

If you plan to be away from your office for more than a week, arrangements should be made to ensure that requests for information are re-routed. You should also ensure that an automated e-mail response message is in place, providing requesters with an alternative contact during your absence.

What is the difference between data protection and freedom of information?

The Data Protection Act 1998 regulates the way that the University collects, processes and discloses information about living individuals. All enquiries relating to personal information should be directed to the University Data Protection Officer. Access to all other types of information created and held within the University is governed by the FOI Act.

What should I do if I receive a request for personal information?

If you receive a request for information about a living person - this might include student files, examination scripts, comments written on student assignments, staff files - you should seek advice from your line-manager and/or the Director of Governance (extn 4869 or email University Data Protection Officer).

What is the University Publication Scheme
Aston has adopted the model Publication Scheme for Universities approved by the Information Commissioner. Aston’s Publication Scheme sets out the information and documents routinely published by the University and is available on its website.

Does the FOI Act have implications for servicing meetings of University committees?

Most of the University's principal committees are included in the University Publication Scheme. This generally means that details of membership, terms of reference, and minutes of meetings are published on the University website as a matter of routine. Agenda items not suitable for routine publication are identified as such in the agenda. Most committees at School and departmental level are not included in the Publication Scheme. However, if the University received a request for information contained in the minutes of a committee not included in the Publication Scheme, the information would have to be disclosed, subject to the exemptions outlined in the FOI Act. If you are responsible for servicing meetings of a formal University committee it is useful to remember that it may be necessary to make the information public at some point in the future. For more advice contact Alice Mineyko, Compliance Officer (extn. 4055 or email FOI_requests@aston.ac.uk).

Where can I obtain further information about Freedom of Information ?