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Dublin: 12 °C Thursday 23 October, 2014

How will the new Freedom of Information charges compare to other countries?

We look at how Ireland compares to the two other countries that charge upfront for FOI requests.

Image: money calculations via Shutterstock

THE LATEST AMENDMENT to the Freedom of Information Act is due is beginning its passage through government.

This raft of changes will see all public bodies and those “in receipt of significant funding from the Exchequer” be subject to the legislation, but has come under fire due to a change in the process which will increase fees.

If multiple pieces of information are requested, each will be treated as a separate application, and so an individual fee will be required for each.

A previous criticism of the bill has been amended since it was first announced in August following concerns from government.

Section 17 (4) (b) would have required officials to handle electronic database queries in the same way in which they would deal with queries related to printed files, something which Solicitor Simon McGarr called an effort by the government to “uninvent computers”.

‘Filleted’

Speaking at the Department of Education yesterday, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said that it was part of the government’s plan to restore “provisions of the Freedom of Information Act which had been filleted”, and that the changes introduced were necessary to address the amount of time the requests take to process.



New fees

So how will the new fees introduced compare to other countries around the world?

Most countries request fees for printing or photocopying costs or when a decision is appealed, but just three require upfront fees.

Ireland

The number of requests declined by 50 per cent when fees were first introduced in Ireland. An application fee of €15 applies, or €10 for medical card holders, after which a number of extra charges can apply. These include “€20.95 per hour of search and retrieval”, and just over €10 if a CD is used to store documents.

Under the new amendment to the Bill, if a request is consists of more than one piece of question seeking “separate and distinct information”, each part will count as a separate request and thus encounter the €15 fee.

This means that a request which contained five requests will now cost €75 instead of just €15.

Israel

Currently a fee of NIS 77 (around €16) applies to all requests.  Handling and production fees also apply up to NIS 204 (around €43), which includes NIS 40 (€8.45) per hour. The cost of the request can be more than NIS 204, but the applicant must be informed of this first.

However, this is now set to be cut, as reported by the blog New Israel Fund. Some believe this could be as much as 80%, bringing the cost well below what is paid in Ireland.

Canada

A fee of $5 (around €3.50) applies to each request. Further fees will then apply if the requests takes longer than three hours to process. These are charged at $30 per hour, and $0.25 per photocopy. 50 per cent of the total estimated free must be paid upfront.

Read: Brendan Howlin “had to fight a battle” for new Freedom of Information law >

More: Department’s FOI amendments ‘run entirely contrary to spirit’ of bill >

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