SOAS University of London

Freedom of Information Staff Guide: Complaints and Appeals

  1. The right to appeal
  2. Routine requests for information - informal procedures
  3. Formal internal appeals
  4. External appeals


1. The right to appeal 

The right to appeal is a fundamental part of the Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Information Regulations. This right can be exercised in two ways: by an internal appeal using our own appeal procedures, and by an external appeal to the regulatory body.

Public authorities like SOAS are strongly encouraged to have appeal procedures for Freedom of Information requests, and must in any case have appeal procedures for Environmental Information requests. We have one internal appeal process covering both pieces of legislation, as well as appeals relating to Data Protection requests. This gives dissatisfied applicants the opportunity for an initial review of how their request for information was handled (see Formal internal appeals). Having gone through this process, applicants who are still unhappy can complain to the Information Commissioner, the body which monitors compliance with the Act and Regulations. At this stage the appeal passes out of our hands, and is dealt with according to the Commissioner's procedures (see External appeals).

Strictly speaking, any written request for information held by the School which is not about the person making the request will come under the Freedom of Information Act or the Environmental Information Regulations (see Dealing with requests for information). This means that the right to appeal doesn't just extend to those who have submitted their request explicitly as a Freedom of Information or Environmental Information request. However, in most cases complaints about routine day to day enquiries can be resolved without having to resort to our formal appeal procedure, as the next section indicates.

2. Routine requests for information - informal procedures 

A "routine" request for information is one which does not have to be forwarded to the Information Compliance Manager. Typically, this will be a written enquiry which your department would normally deal with, which does not mention Freedom of Information or the Environmental Information Regulations (see Dealing with requests for information for the categories of requests which should always be referred to the ICM).

When a complaint is received about a routine information request, the department which dealt with the request should initially try to resolve the complaint. Departments may have their own procedures for dealing with complaints, so the following is meant as general advice on good practice:

  • Complaints should normally be handled by a more senior member of staff than the member of staff who dealt with the original enquiry.
  • A response should be sent promptly, and in all cases within 20 working days.
  • The reply should normally be in writing. If the complaint is received by telephone and it is clear that the person wants to communicate that way, make a note of the complaint and what you said in response.
  • Keep a record of the complaint and the response, in case there is any follow-up.

In most cases, the informal approach will be sufficient to clear up the complaint. However, individuals who are still dissatisfied have the right to go through our formal appeal procedure for Freedom of Information and Environmental Information requests, and to appeal beyond that to the Information Commissioner, if they choose to do so. We have a legal obligation to inform them of these rights. This means that when you respond to a complaint about a routine information request, you should ensure that the response explains how they can access our formal appeal process, and their right to appeal to the Information Commissioner. This can be done by including a link to the text relating to appeals in Submitting a Freedom of Information or Environmental Information request, or by giving a link to the School's Freedom of Information, Environmental Information and Data Protection Appeal Procedures.

3. Formal internal appeals 

Applicants who are dissatisfied with the response that they have received to their request should write to one of the following addresses outlining their complaint:

Post: Information Compliance Manager, SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG, United Kingdom

If possible, complaints will be resolved informally (for example, if a complaint relates to a procedural matter that can be easily resolved). If this does not prove possible, they will be referred to a Senior Officer (Dean, Director or above) other than the person who approved the original response. The Officer will consider whether the original decision was appropriate and if not, what action should be taken to resolve the complaint (eg where information has been withheld under an exemption, they may order that the information should be disclosed). The School will then write to the complainant within 40 working days of their complaint being received with the result of their complaint

4. External appeals

The Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Information Regulations give applicants the right to complain to the Information Commissioner if they believe that we have failed to apply the legislation correctly in dealing with their information request. Before considering their appeal, the Commissioner will usually require them to have gone through our internal appeal procedure first (see Formal internal appeals).

Information on how appeal to the Commissioner is available on the Commissioner's website. Appeals can be sent to the Commissioner at the following address:

Information Commissioner
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Cheshire SK9 5AF
United Kingdom

The Commissioner will investigate the case, and may serve SOAS with an Information Notice specifying information which the Commissioner needs us to provide to make a determination. The Commissioner's judgment upholding or rejecting the complaint will eventually be published as a Decision Notice. If the complaint is upheld in whole or part, the Decision Notice may require us to release information to the applicant which had previously been withheld or not provided. We and the applicant have the right to appeal the Commissioner's decision to the Information Tribunal. Decisions of the Tribunal can then be appealed to the courts on points of law.

Last updated January 2008