YORK council officials have admitted hugely overstating the cost of dealing with Freedom of Information requests.

Earlier this month, the council said the average Freedom of Information (FOI) request cost it £700 to process, but the authority has now admitted the true cost is £137 - less than a fifth of the original figure.

The true amount emerged after a York resident used the FOI Act itself to query the £700 figure.

Ian Floyd, the council’s director of customer and business support services, wrote: “The statement should have referred to ‘up to’ rather than an ‘average’. This was due to an error in publishing the press release unfortunately, and I apologise for this.”

The council stated the £700 figure in response to criticism of the length of time it was taking to handle FOI requests, after statistics showed it was falling far short of the national target of processing 85 per cent within the time limit of 20 working days.

The Press queried the £700 figure at the time but the council did not respond.

Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said the case showed how valuable Freedom of Information laws are. He added: “This shows how council figures and claims can be put to the test effectively. The original £700 figure did seem extremely high."

A new report to councillors shows that in the year to March, the Information Commissioner receives 93 appeals against the city council's handling of FOI requests. Thirty-five of those were because the council had either not responded or responded late to a request. The ICO ruled against the council in 30 cases. Of the other 58 appeals, 48 were settled in favour of the council.

The figures are in a report to the audit and governance committee.