The ICO exists to empower you through information.

We contacted the Office of the Secretary of State for Wales after the publication of the Freedom of Information statistics for central government bodies in 2022. Although they receive a relatively low volume of requests, we were interested to see how they maintain a high level of compliance.

ICO comment: What this case study means

Smaller public authorities with strong working relationships with other bodies might consider collaborating to meet their FOI obligations. Information and skill sharing can work in various different ways. It doesn’t need to be as formal as the “shared service” described below. While some public authorities need specific casework platforms, others will only need Excel or another simple spreadsheet program. Internal deadlines are highly recommended for managing requests. Templates are a good way to save time and control the quality of output.

Shared service

The Office of the Secretary of State for Wales (OSSW) utilises a shared service to manage information requests. The service is provided by the Northern Ireland Office (NIO).

Requests made to OSSW are automatically forwarded to the NIO's FOI inbox. NIO log the request, send an acknowledgement and assign the request to the relevant OSSW team. NIO provides response templates which detail commonly-used exemptions.

Tracking requests in Excel

Cases are tracked via Excel. Request are assigned a specific reference number to help track communications. NIO maintains case folders in which all material about a request is filed.

The Excel case log tracks received dates for each request, internal deadlines and final deadlines. It also notes overdue or late cases or where the team have applied legitimate PIT extensions.

Internal deadlines

When assigning requests to the relevant OSSW team, NIO asks for them to provide cleared responses to meet an internal deadline of 15 working days. If that deadline is not met, they issue reminders until the response is provided. Setting internal 15 working day deadlines is a useful practice which NIO/OSSW would recommend to other public authorities.