Unhappy about the response you got?
If you didn’t get a reply within 20 working days you can:
- Refer your request to the Information Commissioner.
If you did not get all of the information that you requested, or your request was refused without a reason valid under the law you can:
1. Asking for an internal review #
At the bottom of the relevant request page on WhatDoTheyKnow choose "request an internal review". Then write a message asking for an internal review of your request. You may want to include a link to the request page, to make it clear which request you are talking about.
You don't need to ask for an internal review if the authority haven't responded to your request at all by the deadline. You can go straight to the Information Commissioner.
There's a good chance an internal review will prompt a change in the public body's stance. For requests made to central government, 22% of internal reviews resulted in some change to the original decision and 9% were completely overturned, and for local government this figure is between 36-49%.
Internal reviews should be quick. If one takes longer than 20 working days then the authority should write and let you know, and it should never take longer than 40 working days (see this good practice guide). You will then either get the information that you originally requested, or you will be told that the review upholds the original decision.
2. Referring a request to the Information Commissioner #
If you are still unhappy after the public authority has done their internal review, then you can refer your request to the Information Commissioner, who is empowered to uphold access to information laws. To make a referral, start by reading the Information Commissioner's advice for those with concerns about accessing information which links to their form. If you requested information from a Scottish authority, then it is the Scottish Information Commissioner who you will need to contact.
While the Information Commissioner asks for their form to be completed and
evidence supporting a referral to be attached in practice we are aware they
routinely consider referrals made via a simple email setting out the issues,
containing a link to the request on WhatDoTheyKnow.com to provide evidence of
the full history of the correspondence related to the request. If you do wish
to download copies of correspondence, and attachments, to send to the
Information Commissioner the
.zip download feature, accessed via
"Actions" may assist.
WhatDoTheyKnow does not currently have any special facilities for handling a referral to the Information Commissioner. We encourage users to leave annotations on requests keeping people informed of progress. Decisions by the Information Commissioner are published online and you can link to a decision via an annotation on the request.
A warning. Although the Information Commissioner has worked hard to reduce their backlog of casework, it can still take several months to get resolution from them in many cases. One area where they have sped up things considerably is that they are able to prompt non-responsive authorities to reply within a few weeks of receiving a complaint.
If you are unhappy with the response from the Information Commissioner's office you can ask them to reconsider it under their complaints process.
If you reach the point of referring a case to the Information Commissioner, you should accept that you won't get the information quickly by this means. Maybe you want to help the fight to improve our Freedom of Information regime, or maybe getting the information slowly is still worthwhile. You can also try and get the information by other means…
3. Using other means to answer your question #
You can try pursuing your problem or your research in other ways.
- Make a new FOI request for summary information, or for documentation relating indirectly to matters in your refused request. Ask us for ideas if you're stuck.
- If any other public authorities or publicly owned companies are involved, then make FOI requests to them.
- Write to your MP or other politician using WriteToThem and ask for their help finding the answer. MPs can write directly to ministers or departments, and can ask written questions in the House of Commons. Councillors in local authorities can talk directly to council officers.
- Try asking for the information from the European Union. Every one of the 500 million people living in the European Union (both citizens and residents) has the legally guaranteed right to ask for information from EU authorities. AskTheEU.org is a version of this website for the European Union.
- Ask other researchers who are interested in a similar issue to yours for ideas. You can sometimes find them by browsing this site; contact any registered user from their page. There may be an Internet forum or group that they hang out in.
- You could form a small local campaign group and arrange a meeting with staff from the authority.