6 key facts that all staff should know about Environmental Information Regulations
- The Regulations gives everyone both inside and outside UEA a right of access to ANY recorded environmental information held by UEA
- A request for information can be in any form (i.e. oral or written) and need not cite the Regulations to be valid
- All requests must be answered within 20 working days
- The definition of ‘environmental information’ is very wide and includes things such as buildings, waste, and the state of human health
- As all documents and emails could potentially be released under the Regulations, you should ensure that those you create are available, clear and professional
- It is a criminal offence to destroy, conceal or amend emails or other record that has been requested under the Regulations and you may be liable for a fine if you do so
What is a request under EIR?
A request under EIR is completely unqualitfied. It can be:
- Oral or,
- In any recorded format (e.g. print, email)
- It does NOT have to mention the EIR to be valid
Please note - requests for information that we give out as a matter of course should be treated as they are currently.
What do you do if you receive what you think is a EIR request?
If you routinely give out certain information to the public, staff and students, continue to give out this information as before.
If you receive a request for information which
- mentions Environmental Information Regulations, OR
- is NOT information you already routinely provide in the course of your work,
- you are unsure of, OR
- is unusual,
pass the request immediately to your FOIA/EIR Contact. If your FOIA/EIR Contact is unavailable, pass the request immediately to Dave Palmer, UEA Information Policy & Compliance Manager. Act quickly! Remember, by law the request must be answered within 20 working days.
If you are in doubt about any request for information you receive, please contact your FOIA/EIR Contact or the UEA Information Policy and Compliance Manager as soon as possible.
So – who are these FOI/EIR Contacts?
There is a FOI/EIR Contact for each administrative unit and Faculty within the University. A list can be found here.
Do we have to release everything that is requested?
No – the Regulations do provide for exceptions from disclosure where appropriate or necessary.
Regulation 12 & 13 provide exceptions to release and there are two main ‘categories’ of exceptions possible
Regulation 12(4) – exception based on type of material or type of request; this includes the following exceptions
- UEA does not hold that information when an applicant’s request is received;
- The request for information is manifestly unreasonable;
- The request for information is formulated in too general a manner and the public authority has complied with regulation 9;
- The request relates to material which is still in the course of completion, to unfinished documents or to incomplete data; or
- The request involves the disclosure of internal communications.
Regulation 12(5) – exception based on effect of release; there must be an ‘adverse affect’ on one of the following:
- International relations, defence, national security or public safety;
- The course of justice, the ability of a person to receive a fair trial or the ability of a public authority to conduct an inquiry of a criminal or disciplinary nature;
- Intellectual property rights;
- The confidentiality of the proceedings of that or any other public authority where such confidentiality is provided by law;
- The confidentiality of commercial or industrial information where such confidentiality is provided by law to protect a legitimate economic interest;
- The interests of the person who provided the information where that person was not under any legal obligation to supply it; the institution is not entitled to disclose it apart from these Regulations; and has not consented to its disclosure; or
- The protection of the environment to which the information relates.
Please note that personal data cannot be released under EIR if such a release would contravene the Data Protection Act 1998.
Where can I find out more information on the EIR?
If you want to learn on your own, there are a number of websites that have excellent information for both requesters and institutions and a list can be found here.
JISC has produced a managing requests for research data step-by-step guide. This guide is aimed specifically at researchers and can be found on the JISC website.
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has produced some guidance specifically aimed at the higher education sector which can be found here.
If you want a more ‘personal’ introduction to Freedom of Information Act, then CSED offers a course twice yearly. Contact CSED or visit their website for further information or to book yourself on a course. The course materials can be viewed here.
And, as always, you can contact David Palmer, Information Policy and Compliance Manager for advice and guidance.
Top tips on dealing with the impact of EIR
All environmental information is potentially public so write and structure information with EIR in mind
- Be professional in recording information/opinions
- Only record what is required or what you want read
- Identify and separate and/or segregate potentially excepted information
- Research data is under EIR & plan accordingly
We are under an obligation to proactively publish and factor this into your work
- Publish wherever possible – saves dealing with requests
- Use/establish data & publication repositories
Be aware that all information received from anyone outside UEA is subject to the Regulations
- Structure contracts with EIR in mind re confidentiality
- Inform 3rd parties of our obligations under EIR
We have an obligation to respond to each and every request and to do it quickly
- Deal with correspondence in a timely fashion
- Recognize a request & act and/or ask - Don’t ignore it!
Remember that oral requests are valid under the Regulations
- Recognize & deal with oral requests
- Convert to written requests if at all possible
Practice good records management – it will make life easier generally and assist in responding to requests under the Regulations
- We have to be able to locate information – do you know where it is?
- We must provide ALL information held – should we hold it?
We are under an obligation to provide advice and guidance
- Be helpful in regards rights under Regulations
- Direct requester to further information and/or contacts where appropriate