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The Freedom of Information Act 2000

What is the Freedom of Information Act 2000? #

The Freedom of Information Act 2000, commonly referred to as FOI or FOIA, is a law that provides you the right to access information held by public authorities.

Different laws apply to public authorities in Scotland and to request for environmental information.

What organisations are covered? #

The Freedom of Information Act applies to a wide range of public authorities, including:

  • All local authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland;
  • Government departments, Parliament, and various committees and executive agencies;
  • Universities, schools, colleges, and other higher and further education institutions;
  • NHS bodies including GPs, Health Trusts, Pharmacists, NHS Dentists and opticians;
  • Police and fire services; and
  • Companies that are wholly owned by public authorities

Some public authorities are only subject to the act in respect of certain public functions that they perform.

What can I ask for? #

The Freedom of Information Act gives you the right to request recorded information from public authorities. As well as documents and emails, it also covers things like videos and photographs.

You could ask:

Are there any exemptions? #

There are a number of exemptions in FOI that allow public authorities to withhold information from you. You can read more about these on our dedicated help page.

How long does it take to receive a response? #

By law, requests have to be answered promptly and within 20 working days. This deadline can be extended in limited circumstances, such as when an authority needs more time to consider the public interest in releasing information.

How do I make a request? #

Requests are quick and easy to make using WhatDoTheyKnow. You can get started by searching for the authority that you would like to ask for information. We have lots of tips and guidance about how to make an effective request on our help page. To be valid, requests need to be made in writing, include the name of the person making the request, and describe the information that is being requested.

What if I am unhappy with my response? #

We provide detailed advice about what to do if you are unhappy with a response that you have received. The first step is usually to ask the public authority to reconsider the response that they have given. This is known as an internal review. If the authority hasn't replied to your request at all, you do not need to ask for an internal review, and can complain straight to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO)

What is the ICO? #

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is the UK's independent authority responsible for upholding information rights, including the enforcement of the Freedom of Information Act. It exists to promote transparency by public bodies, handle complaints regarding how freedom of information requests have been handled, and, where necessary, take enforcement action to ensure that the act is being complied with.

How do I appeal to the ICO? #

You can appeal to the ICO by email on icocasework@ico.org.uk, using the online form, or by post:

Information Commissioner's Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane

Changes #

We keep these pages under review, and may make changes from time to time to ensure that they remain up-to-date and accurate. You can find a synopsis of changes we’ve made at our GitHub repository but if you have any questions, please do contact us.