Commissioner decision on AIE search and retrieval fees

Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) specialist and campaigner Pat Swords was kind enough to share a recent decision of the Commissioner for Environmental Information with The decision is an important one, and relates to how search and retrieval fees can be used (or not used) in relation to AIE requests (AIE was the method we used to get NAMA to be a public authority subject to AIE requests).

We were particularly interested by this paragraph:

So can any public authority charge search and retrieval for AIE requests from now on? It would certainly seem not – and would surely require new guidance to be issed to all public authorities into how they handle such requests.

The Commissioner points out in her decision that the AIE regulations (2007/2011) say that a public authority cannot charge citizens for inspecting environmental information in situ (at the premises of the authority, see Section 15 1) c) of the Regulations). She argues that if this is the case, then it would be inconsistent and unreasonable to ask citizens to pay a “search and retrieval” fee.

In other words just because the requester is remote from the premises, doesn’t mean their rights of access should be diminished by a fee being charged for search and retrieving information. Only fees for reproduction and so on (photocopying) could be charged.

This is the full decision with thanks to Pat: