The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) UK
Most of the public sector organisations store certain types of information.
But, the Freedom of Information Act provides anyone the right to access the recorded data.
There are several different acts and regulations that handle the requests.
As a rule, it depends on what kind of information you are asking for. For example:
- The Data Protection Act handles information that an organisation holds about the public.
- The Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIRs) deal with requests about environmental information.
There are no restrictions on who can make a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. Anyone, of any age and any nationality, and within the local and national communities, can make the call.
Note: There are several reasons why an organisation may refuse a request to release their data. Examples can include information that is too sensitive or situations where the cost to do so would be too high.
Before You Make a Request for Freedom of Information
In some cases, there is no need to make an official request to get access to the information you need. Some of the organisations will give out the details straight away, often via a phone call.
Requesting Data from Public Sector Organisations
There is a long list of public sector organisations covered by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). But, some of the most popular organisations you can request information about include:
- Colleges, Schools, and Universities
- Doctor surgeries, health trusts, and hospitals
- Government departments, agencies, and other public bodies
- Local councils
- Publicly owned companies
- Publicly funded museums
- The police
How to Check FOI Responses
Most of the Government departments, and their agencies, publish FOI responses online. You can also check the GOV.UK website for a list of updated publications and releases to FOI requests.
How to Make a Freedom of Information Request
As a rule, you will need to contact an organisation in writing to make a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. There are several ways to make contact, including:
- Facsimile (fax)
- Online form
Specific Details to Include
The basic information you should give includes:
- Your name (not required for environmental information requests).
- A contact address.
- A clear and detailed description of what kind of information you want. Make the distinction between asking for all the details held on a given subject or a simple summary.
You can ask the organisation to make their response in a particular format, including:
- Audio format
- Electronic copies of information
- Large print
How Long it Takes for an FOI Response
In most cases, you should receive the requested information within twenty working days. But, if the organisation needs more time they will inform you when to expect their response.
Sharing Your Details and Information
It is not uncommon for someone to send the same FOI request to more than one government department. If so, they may share the name and the request between them. It will help them to make an effective response to the enquiry.
Note: The departments and agencies will not share personal details, or use them, for any other purpose.
FOI Costs UK
Most of the organisations do not make a charge for the requests. But, they might ask you to pay a small fee for photocopies or for postage. The organisation will inform you if there is a cost involved.
Note: You can check the copyright status of any information you get with the Intellectual Property Office. This may be necessary if you are planning to reproduce it.
If an Organisation Turns Down a Request for FOI
Members of the public do not get access to some sensitive information. But, the organisation must inform you why they are unable to give some, or all, the information requested. In some cases, they may ask you to be more specific to help them hand over the details.
Note: An organisation can refuse a Freedom of Information (FOI) request based on the cost of doing so. They can make a refusal if the cost to find and extract the details will be over £450 (£600 for central government).
Asking for a Review and Making a Complaint
You can ask an organisation to review their decision if they fail to produce the information requested. The next step would be to make a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office if you remain unsatisfied.