Councils' charges for information: a postcode lottery?

"Hidden charges in new freedom of information laws have created a postcode lottery that could see councils charge up to £250 for information that would be free from another authority."

The law prevents public bodies from charging for staff time to provide information in response to a request unless they have to spend more than two and a half days looking through records. But councils, police, health authorities and others are allowed to charge for photocopying and postage costs, meaning requests might be anything but free.

Guidance issued by the Lord Chancellor, Charles Falconer, states that "in most cases, photocopying and printing would be expected to cost no more than 10p per sheet of paper".
But staff at West Norfolk Council say they will charge five times that: their 50p per photocopy charge is 10 times the cost of the cheapest councils locally, with both South Norfolk Council and Norfolk County Council charging 5p a page.

South Norfolk Council state that they will waive charges of less than £25 - up to to 499 A4 pages at their 5p rate. The same information would cost £249.50 from West Norfolk.

Freedom of information - at a price (Norfolk Eastern Daily Press, 28 January 2005)