Freedom of information request
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 provides a right of access to a wide range of information held by public authorities. The purpose is to promote greater openness and accountability.
Please note that any personal data the Council may hold about you is outside the scope of this page, and is dealt with in the Privacy and Data Protection pages.
Before you request information
Check whether the information you seek is already available. South Somerset District Council publishes information on this website and you may well find the answer to your question is already here. We have a publication scheme setting out what information we currently release or expect to release. Checking the Scheme before you make a request may save you time.
If you request information from South Somerset District Council that is already published, we will simply refer you to the published source.
You can view previously answered Freedom of Information requests here.
How to make a request
How to make a request
You can submit your request online using the form below. Each question must be separated clearly in a separate box before being submitted.
If you have a specific requirement regarding the format of the information, please let us know. Where reasonable, we will supply the information in the format you request.
You may also write to:
FOI Team, SSDC Central Offices, Brympton Way, BA20 2HT
How should I word my request?
Comprehensive guidance on submitting effective requests for information is available from the Information Commissioner’s Office. However, to frame an effective request for the information you need:
- Clearly identify the information you want. Be clear about date ranges or timescales. If it is not clear what you are requesting, we may need to seek further clarification;
- Be as specific as possible. If your request is too general, it may be refused on the grounds that replying would exceed the cost limit laid down in the Fees Regulations, which is equivalent to one person working 18 hours. If this happens, we will ask you to re-submit a narrower, more specific request which could be met within the cost limits and give you advice and assistance to do so;
- Ask questions such as “what” or “how much” as this is much more likely to result in a useful response;
- Use straightforward, polite language.
- Use open-ended questions such as “why”. We do not have to answer your question if this would mean creating new information or giving an opinion or judgment that is not already recorded;
- Base your request on assumptions or opinions;
- Mix your request with complaints or comments.
Management of your request
To provide you with the information you require in the most quickest and diligent way possible, large parts of the FOI process have been automated through the use of technology. Typically we will fulfil requests within 20 working days, unless any exemptions apply. Deadlines may be extended in the following circumstances:
- The request is under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) and a 'public interest test' is being conducted; or
- The request is under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR) and the request is complex and involves lots of information.
In any case, the responsible officer will inform you why a deadline is being extended, and by how long (this will be 20 days except in extenuating circumstances).
Your request will be assigned a responsible officer, and this officer will communicate with you on behalf of the Council about all issues relating to your request, until the request is closed or transferred.
If it is clear that your request is outside the scope of the legislation, we will explain why.
If your request is entirely unclear, we will ask you to clarify it; the deadline will be reset when clarification is received.
If all the information you have requested has already been published, we will notify you and direct you to the published information.
When any part of your request is unclear. In which case we will also ask you to clarify, and the deadline for compliance (for only the unclear part of the request) will be reset when clarification is received.
When any part of the requested information has already been published. In which case we will also direct you to the published information.
We may refuse to disclose some of the requested information, or refuse to confirm or deny that it is held. In either case, we will explain why the information is exempt and if applicable, why disclosure was not considered to be in the public interest. An introduction to the commonly exempt types of information is provided in the Information We Won't Disclose section.
Whenever reasonable, we will disclose requested information in electronic format and we will use a format and file type you request when reasonable.
We will tell you when we consider your request to be answered, and will provide information about avenues of redress if you are not satisfied with the management of your request.
Information we publish
The Council has adopted the Model Publication Scheme for local authorities, as recommended by the Information Commissioner's Office. A summary of the information we publish under each class defined by the model scheme is available here.
Environmental information held by the Council is under the scope of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR). 'Environmental information' means any information on:
a) the state of the elements of the environment, such as air and atmosphere, water, soil, land, etc, and the interaction among these elements;
b) factors, such as substances, energy, noise, radiation, waste, etc, likely to affect the elements of the environment in (a);
c) measures (including administrative measures), such as policies, plans, etc, and activities likely to affect the elements and factors in (a) and (b) as well as measures or activities designed to protect those elements;
d) reports on the implementation of environmental legislation;
e) economic analyses and assumptions related to the measures and activities in (c); and
f) the state of human health and safety, inasmuch as it may be affected by the state of the elements of the environment in (a) or, through those elements, by any of the matters in (b) and (c).
Broadly speaking, the EIR apply to information under a greater range of circumstances and provide fewer circumstances under which requests can be refused.
We will tell you whether your request is being dealt with under the FOIA or the EIR; this may affect the management of the request in the following ways:
- Whilst both legislations include in their scope information held on the Council's behalf by third parties, the EIR may also include information held by the Council on behalf of third parties.
- Requests under the FOIA can be refused if they are 'repeated', 'vexatious' or 'excessively costly', but requests under the EIR can be refused if they are 'manifestly unreasonable', which can be thought of as a combination of these criteria (repetitiveness, vexatiousness, and costliness).
- Requested information under the EIR can only be withheld if it is exempt and if withholding it is in the public interest. On the other hand, some exemptions under the FOIA are 'absolute', meaning that the information caught by them can be withheld without considering whether doing so is in the public interest.
- The ordinary deadline (of 20 working days) to answer a request under the EIR can be extended by 20 additional working days if the request is complex includes a lot of information.
- Fees charged under the EIR may include the costs of staff time spent dealing with the request. Staff time may not be charged under the FOIA, except in extraordinary circumstances.
- Fees for EIR requests can be paid via card. Call us on 01935 462462 to make a payment to our Environmental Health team.
Information we won’t disclose
Exemptions from disclosure are set out in Part II of the FOIA and Section 12 of the EIR. Detailed guidance on all exemptions under the FOIA and under the EIR is provided by the Information Commissioner's Office. The most common reasons that the Council will withhold information are introduced below.
Personal data about any person is unlikely to be disclosable under an FOIA or EIR request. If you would like to request personal data about yourself you must submit a Subject Access Request (SAR) under the UK General Data Protection Act
Non-environmental information which is 'reasonably accessible' by other means may be exempt under the FOIA.
A request under the FOIA may be refused entirely if:
It would cost the Council over £450 to comply with it, where staff time is calculated at £25 per hour (an excessively costly request);
It is identical or substantially similar to a previous request from the same applicant (a repeated request); or
The purpose and value of the request (to any section of the public) is insufficient to justify the distress, disruption or irritation that would be incurred by complying with it (a vexatious request).
A request for environmental information may be refused if its purpose and value (to any section of the public) is insufficient to justify the distress, disruption, irritation or cost that would be incurred by complying with it (a manifestly unreasonable request).
Other information may be exempt or excepted if it is confidential, or its disclosure would prejudice the commercial interests of any person.
Review and complaints
If you believe that any part of your request was not answered by the responsible officer (by refusal, denial or disclosure) you may request a review. A review of the FOI request will be completed and you will be informed of the outcome.
If you still remain dissatisfied with the way the request has been handled you have the right to appeal to the Information Commissioner's Officer (ICO).
You can call the ICO helpline on 0303 123 1113, or visit their website for more information on how to make contact.