Freedom of Information Request
'Information is Power'
Freedom of information (FOI) Act
Everyone has the right to request information held by public sector organisations under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.
Needless to say you should always go though the proper channels in requesting information from an organisation. Only when all avenues have been exhausted should you resort to a FOI request
The FOI Act gives you the right to ask any public body for all the information they have on any subject you choose. Unless there's a good reason, the organisation must provide the information within 20 working days.
You can also ask for all the personal information they hold on you. If you ask for information about yourself, then your request will be handled under the Data Protection Act.
Everyone can make a request for information - there are no restrictions on your age, nationality, or where you live.
You can ask for any information at all - but some information might be withheld to protect various interests which are allowed for by the Act. If this is case, the public authority must tell you why they have withheld information.Public sector bodies covered by the Act
The Act applies to public bodies including:
- government departments and local assemblies
- local authorities and councils
- health trusts, hospitals and doctors' surgeries
- schools, colleges and universities
- publicly funded museums
- the police
- non-departmental public bodies, committees and advisory bodies
Write to (or email) the public body and include:
- your name
- an address where you can be contacted
- a description of the information that you want
To help the public body find the information, give as much detail as possible. For example, say 'minutes of the meeting where the decision to do X was made', rather than 'everything you have about X'.All public authorities must manage their information in accordance with a publication scheme which describes the 'classes' or 'kinds' of information held (such as minutes or reports).
The 'What Do They Know' website provides a really useful resource on making FOI requests:
You should get a response within 20 working days. If the public body needs more time, they will write and tell you why, and when you will get their response.
What does it cost?
Most requests are free. You might be asked to pay a small amount for photocopies or postage.
If the public authority thinks that it will cost them more than £450 (or £600 for central government) to find the information and prepare it for release, then they can turn down your request. They might ask you to narrow down your request by being more specific in the information you're looking for.