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North Lincolnshire Council won the Initiative of the Year award at the eCase FOI awards 2023. They were also nominated in both the Team of the Year and Practitioner of the Year categories. The ICO helped to judge the awards. We’re keen to share examples of practice that other public authorities can learn from, so we’re publishing this case study.

ICO comment: what this case study means

This case study shows some of the benefits of using templates for correspondence when handling information requests. In this case, the council use a case-management system which generates pre-populated templates. It makes it quicker to issue a response and ensures consistency between responses. It also improves the speed and consistency of internal communications with other areas of the organisation. It can ensure that refusal notices comply with the requirements of FOIA and the EIR. However, organisations must still consider each request on its own merits. They must ensure there is no lowering of standards in the quality of responses.


The council had limited resources to handle their caseload of information requests. They wished to improve several aspects of their request-handling, including:

  • timeliness;
  • tracking requests; and
  • the quality of responses.

Their compliance with the statutory timeframe before April 2021 was below where it needed to be. During case-handling, they had to generate correspondence from scratch and manually insert details of the requester, any reference number and details of the request. The content of responses varied. For example, staff sometimes used different wording to explain specific exemptions. The ICO received few complaints during this period. However, the council found it time-consuming to respond to these complaints, because they had not necessarily named their documents consistently nor stored them in a central location.


The council implemented a case-management system from April 2021 which included the functionality to generate templates for correspondence.

The templates, which include template emails, are pre-populated with the requester’s details, the date of the request and the case reference number. This makes it quicker to deal with the case and reduces the risk of errors from manual copying. The templates use consistent wording when referring to exemptions and exceptions, based on key terms and standard lines that the council maintain and review regularly. The system names documents in a consistent way, meaning staff can easily locate and identify the necessary documents.


Using the case-management system saved time by generating templates for internal and external correspondence on cases. Staff need to take fewer manual steps to draft correspondence and make fewer amendments.

The council have had fewer complaints made to the ICO about their timeliness.

The council’s responses are more consistent, and the quality has improved.

The council can now track their request-handling more easily.

Staff find it easier to locate documents, both during a case and if they are needed subsequently.

Overall, the system allows staff to work more efficiently, which helps to address the problem posed by limited resources.