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Warning over FOI ruling

14 November 2008

A recent freedom of information ruling in Northern Ireland could have a major impact on Scotland’s housing associations, according to McClure Naismith’s social housing team.

The warning follows the news that two housing associations in Northern Ireland have been deemed by the Information Commissioner to be public authorities for the purposes of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (the EIR). They must now comply with requests for environmental information made under the EIR.

The commissioner ruled that the housing associations did carry out public administration functions and have specific public responsibilities that relate to the environment.

Currently, Scottish housing associations are not public authorities for the purposes of the FOI Act 2002. However, as the commissioner ruled that social housing policies and plans for the development of housing are likely to affect the environment, the same test will probably apply to Scotland. Scotland is covered by the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004, which are substantially similar to the EIR.

Derek Hogg, head of the social housing team at McClure Naismith, said: “This is an important ruling that looks likely to impact on Scotland’s housing associations. It is important that housing associations start planning to ensure they are compliant sooner rather than later. It is an added burden on the sector, but compliance is inherently less expensive than non-compliance.” 

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