The Freedom of Information Act

The Freedom of Information Act of 2000 was passed by the UK Parliament in 2000 and came into force in its entirety in 2005. From that time, every public sector organisation in the United Kingdom has been obliged to provide public access to information held by public authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and by UK-wide public authorities based in Scotland. Information held by Scottish public authorities is covered by Scotland’s own Freedom of Information Act (2002).


The Act covers information held by

Government departments

Local authorities and councils

Health trusts, hospitals and doctors’ surgeries

Schools, colleges and universities

The police

Publicly funded museums

Publicly owned companies

and many other public bodies, including quangos, committees and advisory bodies.


The Act may also be used to elicit information about private companies where they intersect with public authorities through provision of goods and services. The Freedom of Information Act (FoI) is the first tool in any investigative researcher’s arsenal. It is very easy to make a request under the Act and the majority of public bodies will have a part of their website dedicated to Freedom of Information.

Note that it is good practice to search the documents already released by the body you are investigating before making your request.


Making an Application

Once you are satisfied that this information is not readily available in the public domain, you can send in a request (by post or email), stating succinctly what it is you require and giving your name (you may apply under a pseudonym but bear in mind that, if your case goes to appeal, you will need to provide an address. You do not need to mention the Act as your request will automatically be dealt with under its auspices.

Be as specific as possible and consider using the dates of specific events you are enquiring about (if known) or date ranges for quantities of information solicited.


You are free to request all the information available on a particular topic, covering a variety of formats, including:

Minutes of meetings

Policy documents

Reports

Details of communications – emails, letters, faxes and telephone transcripts, video, text messages, PowerPoint presentations

Details of public money spent.

Note that personal information held about you is exempt under Section 40 of the Act but it is accessible under the Data Protection Act.


Fees

You can ask the material to be sent to you as a hard copy or digitally, depending on your preference. Most requests are free of charge, but this implies an upper limit of £450 (£600 for central government) that will be borne by the public body finding and copying material; if fulfilling your request is likely to exceed this, you will be asked to narrow you request.


Timescale

Every public body has a duty to reply within twenty working days unless they ask you for more time to process your request. Within the initial twenty-day period, they may also contact you in an attempt to establish precisely what kind of information you need.


Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay



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