How to Make a Freedom of Information Request
The Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) 2000 was introduced to ensure that public authorities in receipt of taxpayers’ money are transparent about how they exercise that authority. Under the FoIA, public authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland must routinely make public certain types of information about their activities, including accounts, policies and procedures, and must respond when members of the general public request information from them – a Freedom of Information (FoI) request. The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 gives the same rights to people in Scotland.
Who can I request information from?
The FoIA applies to organisations designated as public authorities. Public authorities include publicly funded schools, colleges and universities, the NHS, the police and emergency services, government departments and local councils and museums, galleries, theatres and companies that are publicly funded or owned. Members of parliament and political parties are not public authorities for the purposes of the FoIA. Although the BBC is designated as a public authority, under Schedule One, Part VI of the FoIA it only has to provide information if it is held for “purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature”. This can give the BBC quite broad powers to decline FoI requests. In general, you cannot make an FoI request to a private company or business. For example, you could make an FoI to a publicly-owned library, but not to a privately-owned bookshop.
If you are unsure whether or not the organisation you want to request information from counts as a public authority, you can check with the Information Commissioners’ Office. (The ICO also publishes guidance on how to submit FoIs.)
What information can I request?
An FoI can be used to request access to all recorded information held by public authorities. This includes emails, letters, computer files, printed documents, and audio and video recordings, but does not extend to information that is unrecorded. For example, the written minutes of a meeting would be disclosable, but if no minutes were taken then the public authority would not be obliged to ask attendees what took place to answer an FoI. The FoIA also applies to recorded information not authored by the public authority itself – for example, letters received from members of the public.
You cannot request your own personal data via an FoI. This can be done by making a Subject Access Request instead.…