Freedom of Information

The Freedom of Information Act 2000

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 provides individuals with a statutory right to access information which is held by pubic authorities.

Public Authorities

Schedule 1 of the Freedom of Information Act provides a list of bodies which will be deemed public authorities which includes the following:

  • Government Departments
  • Local Authorities
  • Bodies operated by the NHS – this includes Hospitals, doctors, dentists, opticians, pharmacists etc
  • Academic Institutions – schools, colleges, universities  
  • The police
  • The House of Commons
  • The House of Lords
  • The Northern Ireland Assembly
  • The National Assembly for Wales
  • The Post Office  
  • The National Gallery  
  • The Parole Board

A full list can be found in Schedule 1 of the Act.

Public Authorities named for certain parts of their work

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 also prescribes that certain other organizations can be deemed to be public authorities in relation to certain relevant parts of their work or operations. The Act provides the following ways that this can happen.

By order of the Secretary of State if any body or the holder of any office satisfies certain prescribed conditions

By order or the Secretary of State in respect to a body that satisfies these certain conditions and also appears to exercise functions of a public nature or provides a service which is a specific function of a public body which the obligation has been taken up on grounds of a contract

An entity which falls under the definition of a publicly owned company 

Publication of Information  

Public authorities are expected to provide the information by one of two ways: 

  1. Through a publication scheme            
  2. In response to a request made through the general right of access.

There is a statutory right created by the Act to access both personal and non-personal information. Furthermore the Act also provides a right to be made aware as to whether certain information exists. 

Model Publication Scheme

Following the Publication Scheme Development and Maintenance Initiative the Information Commissioners Office has now introduced a model publication scheme that should have been adopted by all public sector organizations from the 1st January 2009.

Following this each public sector organization should produce a guide concerning the information it holds. This information must be easily identifiable and easily accessed by the general public.

Request

There is a legal right conferred by the Act to request any information held by a public authority. A request can be made in relation to any information you think that the public authority may hold but only in relation to recorded information. The public authority must therefore have a record of the information to be able to provide you with details of it. You may phrase the request for information in the form of a question but they will not give you an answer if to answer it they need to create new information or to give an opinion which is not recorded. To avoid disappointment and wasting time you must clearly state what information you are requesting.

Timing  

A response must be provided within 20 working days of the application. If a fee is charged the period of 20 working days may be extended up to three months dependant on when the fee is paid.  

Fees

Under Section 9 of the Freedom of Information Act if the public authority is intending to charge a fee for the provision of the information then they must serve the applicant with a fees notice. The fee cannot be more than the maximum fee which is specified by regulation 6 of the Fees Regulations or a fee permitted by any other form of legislation.

The fee notice should also specify that the public authority is exempt from disclosing the information until the fee is paid.

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For more information on:

  • Will my request be granted?  
  • Exemptions 
  • Are the exemptions only concerned with legal or national issues?
  • Personal Information  
  • Enforcement  
  • Enforcement Notice