Internal reviews

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Introduction

  • If you are dissatisfied by any response you receive as a result of your FOI request to a public authority, you have the right to complain.
  • Some examples of what you can complain about:
  • the level of fees requested - either incorrectly applied, or the basis for calculation was incorrect
  • that the recorded information you've requested does exist and the authority claims otherwise
  • that any exemptions used to withhold information were incorrectly applied
  • that your request was unfairly deemed to be vexatious or repeated
  • that you didn't make a valid FOI or EIR request (eg if you didn't provide your name or state what you wanted clearly enough)
  • that they didn't reply in the allowed time
  • that they didn't provide "advice or assistance" if you needed it
  • that they didn't take any of your reasonable preferences into account for how you wanted the information to be provided to you
  • that they provided the wrong information, or information that was not at the level of detail requested.
  • that they didn't provide the requested information from their publication scheme
  • The sections below show how to complain under the various jurisdictions - the basic process is to:
1) reply to the authority, saying that you are dissatisfied by their response,
2) set out your reasons why you are dissatisfied,
3) and ask them to review their response.
  • If they don't change their minds after the review, then you have the right to appeal, either to the Information Commissioner (ICO) or the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC). You should do this within 20 days of the result of the review.
  • Be warned that internal reviews can take a long time in practice, although they should ideally be within 20 working days - see below for details.
  • NB: If you want to make a complaint to the ICO or SIC, they will usually insist you have exhausted the complaints process with the public authority.

Freedom of Information Act 2000 (England, Wales & NI)

The relevant legislation is contained within the "Part VI of the Secretary of State's Section 45 Code of Practice". Important quotes are:

  • "36. Each public authority should have a procedure in place for dealing with complaints both in relation to its handling of requests for information."
  • "38. Any written reply from the applicant (including one transmitted by electronic means) expressing dissatisfaction with an authority's response to a request for information should be treated as a complaint"
  • "39. The complaints procedure should provide a fair and thorough review of handling issues and of decisions taken pursuant to the Act"

Bear in mind that whilst the MoJ describes the complaints procedure of Part VI of the Code of Practice as an Internal Review, the text of the Code of Practice itself does not mention these words - some public authorities incorrectly only allow refusals under Section 17 of the FOIA to be reviewed, often by an "appeals panel".

The ICO recommend that reviews should be carried out within 20 working days - see their "Good Practice Guidance 5 - Time limits on carrying out internal reviews".

There are very few circumstances where you can complain directly to the ICO. These are:

  • Where the public authority does not have a complaints process
  • For the BBC - for appeals against them applying the journalism, art or literature "derogation" - you should complain direct to the ICO. Background information on this
  • Many public authorities won't provide an appeals process for requests they consider to be vexatious.

Also see the ICO's When & How to Complain leaflet.

Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2000

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Environmental Information Regulations

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