Your privacy is important to us.
In the UK, the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) provides individuals with a right of access to information held by public authorities. A Freedom of Information (FOI) request is a formal process by which individuals can request information from these public authorities. This information can include documents, records, emails, reports, and other types of information.
Who Can Make Requests?
Any individual, regardless of nationality or location, can make an FOI request. Requests can also be made by organizations or businesses.
FOI requests apply to a wide range of public authorities, including government departments, local councils, schools, hospitals, and various other publicly-funded organizations.
You can request any recorded information that the public authority holds. This can include documents, emails, databases and other types of records.
While the FOIA promotes transparency, there are certain types of information that may be exempt from disclosure. These exemptions include personal data, national security information, commercially sensitive information, and more. Some exemptions are absolute, while others qualified and subject to a public interest test. There are also exemptions public authorities may use to refuse an FOI request.
Making a Request
To make an FOI request, you generally need to send a written request to the relevant public authority. Many authorities have online request forms that you can use. Your request should be specific and clearly describe the information you are seeking. A requester does not need to say why they want the information.
Public authorities are generally required to respond to FOI requests within 20 working days. This means you should receive a response within a month, although complex requests might take longer.
In most cases, making an FOI request is free. However, authorities can charge for certain costs related to fulfilling the request, such as photocopying or postage.
If your request is denied or if you’re unsatisfied with the response, you can appeal by way of complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), an independent body that oversees the FOIA in the UK.
Many public authorities proactively publish certain types of information as part of their “publication schemes.” This information is readily available to the public without the need for an FOI request.
The FOI Act is designed to promote transparency and accountability in the UK government and public sector by allowing citizens to access information that was previously not easily available to them. Freedom of information enables transparency and better understanding of decision making by public authorities. The consequences of failing to respond to an FOI response correctly include regulatory and financial sanction and financial penalty, as well as reputational damage and loss of public confidence.
Cleaver Fulton Rankin is the first indigenous law firm in Northern Ireland to launch a Legal Technology Group. In responding to FOI requests, our processes are managed by experienced dual-qualified solicitors using trusted workflows and safeguards to ensure that FOI responses are compliant and correct.
This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor.