Guide to the Functions & Records of the Department - Part 1


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CONTENTS

Part 1. Freedom of Information (FOI)
1.1 Rights under the Acts
1.2 Routinely Available Information
1.3 Access to Information under the Acts
1.4 Appointment of FOI Officers in DEASP
1.5 Making an FOI Request
1.6 Right of Appeal
1.7 Internal Review
1.8 Review by the Commissioner
1.9 Confidentiality of Information
1.10 Fees

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Part 1. Freedom of Information (FOI)

1.1 Rights under the Acts

The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, 1997 established three new statutory rights:

  • a legal right for each person to access information held by public bodies;
  • a legal right for each person to have official information relating to him or herself amended where it is incomplete, incorrect or misleading; and,
  • a legal right to obtain reasons for decisions affecting oneself.

The Acts assert the right of members of the public to obtain access to official information to the greatest extent possible consistent with the public interest and the right to privacy of individuals.

1.2 Routinely Available Information

The Department of Social Protection ( DSP) currently makes information routinely available to the public in relation to its functions, activities and schemes.

The Department's Central Information Services Unit provides information directly to customers and also supports other areas of the Department in their dealings with customers.

Through its agency Comhairle (formerly NSSB), and that agency's network of Citizens' Information Centres, the Department promotes and supports the development of independent information advice and advocacy services throughout the country.

The Department is committed to ensuring that staff making decisions do so with full knowledge of the relevant legislation and regulations and that the basis for those decisions is clearly explained to customers.

Such information will continue to be available informally without the need to use the FOI Acts. This reference book highlights, in relation to each of the Department's activities, where information of this nature is available.

The FOI Acts are designed to allow public access to information held by public bodies which is NOT routinely available through other sources. Access to information under the Acts is subject to certain exemptions and involves specific procedures and time limits. This reference book provides a guide to the structure of the Department so as to help you access information under the FOI Acts.

1.3 Access to Information under the Acts

Under the FOI Acts, anyone is entitled to apply for access to information not otherwise publicly available. Each person has a right to:

  • access to records held by the Department;
  • correction/amendment of personal information relating to oneself held by the Department where it is inaccurate, incomplete or misleading;
  • access to reasons for decisions made by the Department directly affecting oneself.

The following records come within the scope of the Acts:

  • all records relating to personal information held by the Department irrespective of when created;
  • all other records created from the commencement date of the Act, i.e. 21 April, 1998;
  • any other records necessary to the understanding of a current record.

The Department is obliged to respond to the request within 4 weeks. A week is defined in the Acts to mean 5 consecutive working days, excluding Saturdays and Public Holidays (Sundays are also included as they are not weekdays).

1.4 Appointment of FOI Officers in DEASP

Section 4 of the FOI Acts empowers the Minister to delegate functions relating to decisions on FOI requests to officers of particular grades. Under the delegation made in respect of DEASP, staff in the grade of Executive Officer (or above) have been appointed to decide requests for personal information (only) and staff in the grade of Higher Executive Officer (or above) have been appointed to decide non-personal requests.

In accordance with the provisions of the FOI Acts, more senior staff have been appointed to decide requests for internal review i.e. Higher Executive Officers (and above) in the case of personal requests and Assistant Principals (and above) in the case of non-personal requests. Reserve FOI Officers and Reviewers have also been appointed. 

1.5 Making an FOI request

Personal Request for information on your claim(s)

Staff have been appointed in each area of the Department to decide FOI requests.

Applications for specific claim records should be directed to 'the FOI Officer' in the relevant scheme area who dealt with your claim i.e. the Local Office or Headquarter office your claim was processed in.

If unsure where to submit your request, it can be submitted to the FOI Unit (address below) who will redirect if necessary. You may also contact the FOI Unit by telephone/e-mail for further details.

Non-Personal Records

Requests for access to non-personal records should be forwarded to:

Freedom of Information (FOI) Unit,
Government Buildings,
Shannon Lodge,
Carrick-on-Shannon,
County Leitrim.

E-mail: foi@welfare.ie

Telephone: (071) 9672544 or (071) 9672545.

1.6 Right of Appeal

The Acts set out a series of exemptions to protect sensitive information where its disclosure may damage key interests of the State or of third parties. Where a Department or Office invokes these provisions to withhold information, the decision may be appealed. Decisions in relation to deferral of access, charges, forms of access, etc. may also be the subject of appeal.

1.7 Internal Review

You may seek internal review of the initial decision which will be carried out by an official at a higher level if:

  • you are dissatisfied with the initial response received i.e. refusal of information, form of access, charges, etc., or
  • you have not received a reply within 4 weeks of your initial application. This is deemed to be a refusal of your request and allows you to proceed to internal review.

Requests for internal review should be submitted in writing to the relevant Branch of the Department. The address of each Branch is provided in Parts 4 and 5 below.

A request for internal review must be submitted within 4 weeks of the initial decision. The Office must complete the review within 3 weeks. Internal review must normally be completed before an appeal may be made to the Information Commissioner.

1.8 Review by the Commissioner

Following completion of internal review, you may seek independent review of the decision from the Information Commissioner. Also if you have not received a reply to your application for internal review within 3 weeks, this is deemed to be a refusal and you may appeal the matter to the Commissioner. The Commissioner's decision can only be appealed to the High Court on a point of law.

Appeals in writing may be made directly to the Information Commissioner at the following address:

Office of the Information Commissioner
18 Lower Leeson Street
Dublin 2

Telephone: (01) 6395689
Fax: (01) 6395676

Email: info@oic.ie

1.9 Confidentiality of Information

The Department of Social and Protection undertakes to treat as confidential any information provided to it by individuals or others on a confidential basis, subject to the Department's obligations under law, including the Freedom of Information Acts. Any persons supplying information to the Department that they wish to have treated as confidential should state this when providing the information and state the reasons for its sensitivity. The Department will consult with any individual or body so supplying sensitive information before making a decision on any Freedom of Information request received.

1.10 Fees

There are basically two types of charges that apply under the Freedom of Information Acts:

(1.) Fees that accompany a request for a record or review of a decision:

  • in respect of requests for personal records about yourself, no fee will be charged;
  • a fee of €15 must accompany a request for records other than those containing only personal information relating to yourself. A reduced fee of €10 applies in relation to such a request if you are the holder of a medical card;
  • a fee of €75 must accompany an application for an internal review of a Freedom of Information decision of the Department. A reduced fee of €25 applies if you are the holder of a medical card. There is no fee for an internal review in relation to a decision to impose fees or deposits;
  • a fee of €150 must accompany an application for an external review by the Information Commissioner of a decision by the Department. A reduced fee of €50 applies if you are the holder of a medical card or in relation to a review relating to certain third party information. There is no fee for an external review in relation to a decision to impose fees or deposits.

(2.) Fees and deposits in relation to the cost of search and retrieval and copying of records may be charged as follows:

  • in respect of requests for personal records about yourself, fees will not be charged, unless there is a very large volume of records involved;
  • for requests for non-personal records fees may be charged in respect of time spent in efficiently locating the records and for copying records, based on standard hourly rate. No charges will apply for the time spent by the Department in considering the request.
  • a deposit may be payable where the total fee is likely to exceed €50.79. In these circumstances, the Department, will if requested, assist you in amending the request so as to reduce or eliminate the amount of the fee.

Fees for search and retrieval and copying of records released:

  • €20.95 per hour - search and retreival
  • €0.04 per sheet for a photocopy
  • €0.51 for a 3 and a half inch computer diskette
  • €10.16 for a CD-ROM
  • €6.35 for a radiograph (X-Ray)

Payment should be made by way of bank draft, postal order or personal cheque made payable to the "Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection". If you are claiming a reduced application fee, your request must alo include:

  • Your Medical Card registration number;
  • The name of the issuing Health Service Executive Area; and
  • Your consent to the verification of these details with that Health Service Executive.

Charges may be waived in the following circumstances:

  • where the cost of collecting and accounting for the fee would exceed the amount of the fee;
  • where the information would be of particular assistance to the understanding of an issue of national importance; or,
  • in the case of personal information, where such charges would not be reasonable having regard to the means of the person making the request.

Last modified:16/01/2012
 

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