FOI Timeliness Statistics at The National Archives

FOI request reference: F0053219
Publication date: August 2018

Request

This Freedom of Information request relates to the amount of time that people making requests for closed TNA historical archival files to be opened typically have to wait before receiving an initial decision (not including appeals etc.). Specifically I would like to know:

What proportion of FOI requests to TNA for the opening of historical archival files received in the year to 31st March 2018 received initial decisions:

(A) Within 20 working days of the FOI request being received.
(B) Within 21-40 working days
(C) Within 41-60 working days
(D) Within 61-80 working days
(E) Within 81-100 working days
(F) Within 101-120 working days
(G) Longer than 120 working days.

Please could you provide both percentages and absolute numbers.

Outcome

Successful

Response

I can confirm that The National Archives holds information relevant to your request. We are pleased to be able to provide this information to you.

Timeliness of FOI requests to The National Archives between April 2017 & March 2018:

Time taken for FOI decision notice to be sent   Number of cases   Percentage of Overall Cases
(A) Within 20 working days                                          1338                                   50.1
(B) Within 21-40 working days                                     600                                    22.5
(C) Within 41-60 working days                                      295                                    11.1
(D) Within 61-80 working days                                     125                                     4.7
(E) Within 81-100 working days                                    163                                    6.1
(F) Within 101-120 working days                                   71                                      2.7
(G) Longer than 120 working days                                76                                      2.8

Total of 2668 FOI requests for the opening of historical documents.

Advice and assistance
Whilst 20 working days is the normal timescale for compliance, there is provision within section 10 FOIA for an authority to extend or vary this time limit under certain circumstances.

In order to provide some context to the above statistics, we have provided some information below about the timelines set out in section 10 affect the timeliness of the completion of FOI requests at The National Archives.

Additional 10 working days
The National Archives occupies a unique position within the Freedom of Information Act legislation, as we are required to consult with other government departments before processing requests for access to closed information held within the archives. In relation to the time we are given for compliance, section 10(4) of the Freedom of Information Act specifies that The National Archives be granted additional time to process such requests in order to allow for this obligatory consultation period. Currently this additional processing period constitutes another 10 working days – 30 working days in total.

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2004/3364/regulation/4/made

Public interest test extension
In cases where a qualified exemption is applied, The National Archives have to carry out a public interest test to consider whether the balance of the public interest lies in favour of maintaining the exemption or in favour of releasing the information (section 15 of the Act). The public interest test process is a rigorous one for historical files at The National Archives, as it requires independent evaluation. Broadly speaking, the PIT process takes place over two stages:

Stage One – Transferring government department performs the public interest test. Sometimes the formulation of these arguments requires input from more than one government department.

Stage Two – Independent evaluation through consultation with the Advisory Council on National Records and Archives (ACNRA) representatives.

Owing to how this procedure works, it can be a lengthy process to finalise a case involving public interest considerations. Following ICO guidance (https://ico.org.uk/media/1165/time-for-compliance-foia-guidance.pdf) that in ‘exceptional circumstances’ a second public interest test extension may be required, The National Archives takes a ‘reasonable’ amount of time for a case with a qualified exemption to be 70 working days.

ICO guidance on section 10 FOIA: https://ico.org.uk/media/for-organisations/documents/1165/time-for-compliance-foia-guidance.pdf

Published statistics
The National Archives publish a yearly an Annual Report & Accounts each year, which includes TNA’s FOI Centre’s timeliness statistics; http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/about/our-role/plans-policies-performance-and-projects/our-performance/

The National Archives’ statistics are also included within the government FOI statistics published by Cabinet Office:
https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/government-foi-statistics
Please note that these published figures also include requests received by The National Archives for information from our own corporate records.