Freedom of Information requests are costing tax payers in St Albans a quarter of a million pounds annually –and the leader of the council believes businesses are using them to get detailed information for commercial gain.

St Albans District Council received more than 1,000 FOI requests last year, considerably more than those received by neighbouring councils.

The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000 gives members of the public the statutory right to all information held by public authorities.

The average cost of responding to a request is £255 and takes 7.5 hours.

The council’s leader Julian Daly said: “I’m all for transparency, but this is an enormous sum.

“The cost of responding to FOI requests is equivalent to about 2.5 percent of the council tax we raise from a typical local home.

“What makes me particularly annoyed are requests from businesses using FOI to get detailed information for commercial gain, instead of investing in market research. “It lays a heavy financial burden on local residents.

"If it was just members of the public or media holding us to account, the cost would be reasonable. But it isn’t.”

Based on 266 requests received from April to June, 57 percent of the requests were from businesses, 15 percent from the national media and 13 percent from the Metropolitan Police.

Nine percent of requests were from members of the public.

Of the 994 requests received by the council, 93 were forwarded to Hertfordshire County Council.

The council has 20 working days to respond to a request.