Freedom of Information
Your guide to openness
What is the Freedom of Information Act?
The Freedom of Information Act 2000
gives people a general right of access to information held
by or on behalf of public authorities. It should create better public understanding of:
how public authorities carry out their duties;
why they make their decisions; and
how they spend public money.
It will also promote a culture of openness and accountability across the public sector.
What are public authorities?
The Act applies to public authorities. This broadly means publicly funded organisations that work for
the welfare of the whole population, including:
health authorities; and
health bodies including GPs and dentists.
What information can I have access to?
The Freedom of Information Act gives you a general right of access to all recorded information held by
public authorities. Recorded information can be held in the form of documents, emails, notes, videos, letters
and even audio tapes. It does not have to be about you, and you do not need to give a reason for wanting it.
How do I get hold of the information?
There are two ways to ask for the information held by a public authority.
You can make a formal freedom of information request. This must:
be in writing;
clearly describe the information you want; and
include your name and address.
Alternatively every public authority makes some information publicly available already, for example its
annual reports, policy documents and financial information. The information an authority is committed to
routinely publishing is described in the approved model publication scheme which al authorities must adopt.
A copy of the model scheme can be accessed via the ICO website. The scheme commits every authority to
provide a guide to the specific information they routinely provide. In most cases you should be able to
access the guide and the information contained within it electronical y and free of charge. In certain
circumstances some information wil be only available by contacting the authority. If this is the case the
authority must send it to you immediately.
When wil I receive the information?
If the information is covered by a publication scheme, the public authority should provide it without delay.
However, if you make a formal freedom of information request, a public authority has up to 20
working days to provide a response, starting from the day after it gets your request.
In some cases this time limit may be extended. If so, the public authority should write to you within
the 20 day limit and let you know when it will be able to send you the information.
Wil the information cost me anything?
Charges may be made for information which is routinely released and covered by the publication
scheme. These charges must be shown in the authorities guide to information.
The Act does not state how these charges should be calculated, but the Information
Commissioner's Office (ICO) expects that:
public authorities should provide as much information as possible free of charge; and
if charges are made, they must be justifiable and transparent.
If I make a freedom of information request, wil I get
everything I ask for?
Yes, often the public authority wil provide al the information you have requested. However, there are
some restrictions on what it can provide. These are cal ed exemptions. They al ow public
authorities to withhold information that should not be released into the public domain. Examples
include information that identifies other people or may compromise national security. More
information about this is available from the ICO website www.ico.gov.uk.
If a public authority intends to rely on an exemption to withhold information from you, it must send
you a refusal notice stating the exemption and saying why it applies.
Could there be other reasons for refusing my request?
Yes. A public authority may also refuse your request if:
it estimates that the cost of complying would exceed a set limit - currently £600 for
government departments, £450 for all other authorities;
it cannot identify the information you want – in which case it should work with you to clarify
it thinks your request is vexatious – in other words, if the primary purpose of your request is to
cause unjustified distress, disruption or irritation; or
it has already given you similar information recently.
Can I complain?
Yes, you may complain to the public authority if you are unhappy about how it has responded to
your freedom of information request, or the decisions it reached over what to disclose. You may
also complain if the public authority:
failed to respond to your request within 20 working days or to explain why an extension to the
20-day reply period is needed;
failed to offer advice and help in connection with your request; or
made excessive or unreasonable charges for the information it supplied.
You can also complain if you think that an authority is not publishing information in accordance with
its publication scheme (for example, if it refuses to let you have information that seems to be
covered by its scheme, or it takes a long time to send it to you).
Who should I complain to?
In the first instance, you should complain directly to the public authority itself. Its complaints
procedures should provide for a fair and thorough review of how the request was handled and of its
decisions. You should send your complaint as soon as possible and preferably not later than 20
working days after the public authority's response.
If you believe that the public authority has not dealt with your complaint properly, or if it does not
have a complaints procedure, and the public authority is in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, you
should complain to the ICO. You should send in your complaint as soon as possible and preferably
not later than two months from when the public authority:
responded to your request for information or request for internal review; or
should have responded to your request for information or request for internal review.
If your complaint is about a public authority located in Scotland you should contact the Scottish
Information Commissioner's Office, as the majority of Scottish public authorities are governed by
the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, an entirely separate Act. For more information
visit the Scottish Information Commissioner's website www.itspublicknowledge.info. telephone
01334 464610 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ICO publishes a leaflet 'Freedom of Information - How to complain' which gives a step-by-step
guide on how to complain about the handling of freedom of information requests. You can get a
copy by calling 08453 091 091 or visiting www.ico.gov.uk.
For more general advice on freedom of information, contact our helpline on 01625 545 745 or visit
our website at www.ico.gov.uk.
If you would like to contact us call 08456 306060
or 01625 545 745 if you would prefer to call a national rate number.
Information Commissioner’s Office,
Wycliffe House, Water Lane,
Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF.