Freedom of Information Act 2000

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Introduction

This section of the wiki provides more details on the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA).

Name and Address

  • You should ideally use your real name for FOI requests. Various permutations of names are acceptable. For example, if you're called John Smith, then Mr Smith or J. Smith are both OK.
  • If you're writing on behalf of a corporate body (eg company or charity etc), then the name of that company is acceptable.
  • If you wish to remain anonymous, there's nothing to stop you asking a friend or relative to make a FOI request on your behalf under their name.
  • The ICO have updated their advice on using a pseudonym to make requests [URL req'd]. They will not accept as valid any complaint (ie under FOIA Section 50) from anyone they suspect of using a pseudonym - this is because further appeals need to go to Tribunal, which has a stronger requirement for disclosure of real names.
  • The ICO state that a pseudonym does not automatically result in a request being vexatious, and that Authorities should consider disclosing information to anonymous requesters.
  • You need to provide "an address for correspondence". This means that either an email address OR a physical address is required.
  • The ICO have confirmed this recently, in response to correspondence with Rother District Council who originally insisted on a physical address being provided for all FOI requests.

How to make a request

Any person can make a request under the Act - there are no restrictions on your age, nationality, or where you live.

All you have to do is write to (or email) the public authority that you think holds the information you want. You should make sure that you include:

  • your name & and address where you can be contacted
  • a description of the information that you want

You can make a request to public authorities using the WhatDoTheyKnow web site, the site lists over 3,000 UK public authorities.

Timelines

Public authorities have 20 working days to send you the information you've requested. There are a few rules and exemptions to this:

  • The clock starts the working day after you make your request. If you request on a Friday, the clock starts from Monday.
  • The authority should reply back to you within 20 working days
  • UK Bank Holidays are excluded from the working day calculation
  • If the authority needs to clarify your request, the 20-day clock won't start until they have received the full clarifications they need to identify and locate the information.
  • If the authority needs to charge fees to retrieve information, the 20-day clock stops when they tell you this, and won't start again until the cheque you've sent has cleared
  • The authority can "reasonably" extend the time required, eg to consult third parties, or to apply a Public Interest Test. If they do this, they should send you a Section 17 Refusal Notice.
  • There are a few other special cases where they can extend the deadlines, specified by SI 2004/3364, SI 2009/1369, and SI 2010/2768:
Special cases - Section 10(4) of the Act provides for an extension to the 20 working days timescale, up to 60 working days, to be made by statutory instrument. So far, four cases have been identified for such treatment:
  • to deal with school holidays, since the school will not be staffed at that time;
  • when frontline units of the armed forces are impossible to reach for operational reasons;
  • if a public authority needs to consult posts, governments or companies abroad to obtain information; and
  • when the National Archives need to determine whether requested information in a transferred public record that has not been designated as open information is exempt, or whether the duty to confirm or deny is excluded under Part II.
MoJ Guidance.

Part I

Exemptions guidance

The table below shows the FOIA exemptions, including whether they are absolute exemptions or qualified exemptions subject to a Public Interest Test.

Exemption absolute / qualified MoJ guidance ICO guidance
Section 12: Exemption where cost of compliance exceeds appropriate limit Absolute link link
Section 21: Information Accessible By Other Means Absolute link link
Section 22: Information Intended For Future Publication Qualified link link
Section 23: Information Supplied by, or Related to, Bodies Dealing with Security Matters Absolute link N/A
Section 24: National Security Qualified link N/A
Section 26: Defence Qualified link link
Section 27: International Relations Qualified link link
Section 28: Relations Within The United Kingdom Qualified link link
Section 29: The Economy Qualified link link
Section 30: Investigations And Proceedings Conducted By Public Authorities Qualified link link
Section 31: Law Enforcement Qualified link link
Section 32: Court Records Absolute link link
Section 33: Audit Functions Qualified link link
Section 34: Parliamentary Privilege Absolute link N/A
Section 35: Formulation Of Government Policy Qualified link link
Section 36: Prejudice to Effective Conduct of Public Affairs Qualified link link
Section 37: Communications With Her Majesty, With Other Members Of The Royal Household, And The Conferring By The Crown Of Any Honour Or Dignity Qualified in NI; Absolute otherwise link link
Section 38: Health And Safety Qualified link link
Section 39: Environmental Information Qualified - EIR applies, and all EIR exemptions are subject to a PIT link N/A
Section 40: Personal Information For 3rd party info - neither - depends on 'fairness' test of DPA. For own information, this is an absolute exemption link link
Section 41: Information Provided In Confidence Absolute link link
Section 42: Legal Professional Privilege Qualified link link
Section 43: Commercial Interests Qualified link link
Section 44: Prohibitions On Disclosure Absolute link link

Who is subject to the Freedom of Information Act?

Publication Schemes, Disclosure logs & ICO / Information Tribunal guidance

How the Act came about

Main article: History of the Freedom of Information Act 2000

The Labour Party's 1997 manifesto contained the following commitment: "Unnecessary secrecy in government leads to arrogance in government and defective policy decisions. The Scott Report on arms to Iraq revealed Conservative abuses of power. We are pledged to a Freedom of Information Act, leading to more open government, and an independent National Statistical Service."

Legislative information

  • To link to this legislation, try {{ukpga|2000|36}}.
  • Short title: Freedom of Information Act 2000
  • Legislation ID: ukpga/2000/36

External Links