Freedom of Information Act 2000
This section of the wiki provides more details on the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA).
- The law applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland only.
- Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 applies in Scotland
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 2,000 UK public authorities.
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:
|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:
|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||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 + 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."