Department of Public Expenditure charge €200 in search and retrieval fees for seven pages of records

One of the most inconsistent aspects of making Freedom of Information requests in Ireland is the imposition of fees.

Most can be dealt with for free as long as the requester is happy to refine the scope of the request to bring it below a five-hour threshold at which fees apply.

If the request is likely to take longer than five hours to process, a public body is supposed to give an opportunity to refine it … to make it more manageable so fees don’t apply.

In this case, Right to Know director Ken Foxe had been seeking copies of records relating to sanction for salaries in excess of rates that had been previously agreed.

Mr Foxe repeatedly offered to reduce the scope of the request to the Department of Public Expenditure.

However, the department offered only one possibility, which was for him to specify which posts he was interested in finding out about. This was clearly impossible given that’s what the request was meant to find out.

The imposition of fees was appealed but the Information Commissioner ruled that the department had done all they needed to assist the requester.

In that decision, they said: “While I fully accept that the applicant may not have the required knowledge that would allow him to refine the scope of his request to a particular post or posts, it is also apparent, from the Department’s description of the manner in which sanction requests are processed, that the Department would not be in a position to offer a list of relevant posts for consideration without conducting a search for relevant records.”

Mr Foxe subsequently decided to pay the fees personally believing it was important the department would not be able to close off inquiries of this nature.

In the decision, the Department of Public Expenditure released four records (€50 per record) – consisting of seven pages (at a rate of €28.57 per scanned page).

You can read them for yourself here. A second set of records (provided for free!) relating to another public service appointment are also available below: