What you can ask for
- Nearly anything - it must be "recorded" though ie written down somewhere or in a computer file
- Bear in mind that the information may be held by a 3rd party on behalf of the public authority - you have the right to see this.
- Think carefully about what information you are seeking.
- Be responsible - you should search for the information before asking:
- Use their website's search engines, site maps or A-Zs
- Every public authority maintains a publication scheme listing information they make routinely available and how to get it
- Some websites will also contain examples of requests they have already answered, sometimes called a disclosure log.
- The Information Commissioner has a "charter for responsible freedom of information requests"
How should you ask for it?
- Ask for "information relating to..." rather than asking for a question to be answered
- Although asking for very specific information will help the authority find what you're looking for more easily, they may not disclose related documents that you specifically haven't asked for, so making your request a little broader that it needs to be may help provide what you're looking for.
- On the flip-side, be wary of making your request too broad, to ensure your request is kept below the cost limit for compliance.
- Listing dates, names of people, other bodies and links to other related sources will help the public authority to comply with your request.
- Don't be afraid to ask the authority for help in putting together your request - they have a legal duty to assist you.
- Make sure you provide a contact name - see pseudonyms
- Although this is not compulsory, it helps the authority if you label your request to make it clear it's a request being made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 or the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, especially for smaller authorities may not have much experience in answering information requests - this makes it clear to them how they should act and respond to your request.
- In Scotland, the relevant laws are the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 and Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004
- Make clear in your request whether you have a preference for how you would like to receive the information – for example, if you would prefer a paper copy or to receive it by email.
- Keep your language neutral, don't allow them any excuse for them to treat your request as vexatious. Avoid threatening, abusive or mocking language, even if you've have poor experience from the authority before. The Information Commissioner mostly sides with the authority in vexatious cases.
- WhatDoTheyKnow.com has more information on how to keep your request focused
What you can't ask for
- Information about yourself or personal information about other people - this is covered by different legislation: the Data Protection Act 1998
What they may say
- You're making a vexatious request
- You've not provided a name and address
- You need to clarify what you've asked for
- It will cost too much to send you the information