Freedom of Information

There are laws which give everyone a general right to obtain recorded information held by public bodies.

The Freedom of Information Act 2000, which came into full force in January 2005, gives everyone a general right to obtain recorded information held by public bodies including:

  • Central Government;
  • Local Councils and Public Bodies;
  • National Health Service;
  • Schools; and
  • Police.

What the law says

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 entitles you to find out more about the public body, for example, its policies and procedures. If the information you are seeking is about yourself, you should use your rights under the Data Protection Act 1998. See our Data Protection section for further information.

Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, public bodies must make clear:

  • the sort of information the body routinely publishes;
  • the format in which the information is available; and
  • whether there are charges for releasing same, and if so, what those charges are.

This information must be approved by the Information Commissioner. You can ask for information, whether in an approved publication scheme or not, by letter or email. Public bodies have to provide advice and assistance to people who have made, or are thinking of making, a request. The body should help you to understand your rights and tell you what fees, if any, may be involved.

Generally, the body should respond within 20 working days. You can ask for a summary or a copy of the information, or you can ask to see the actual records themselves. Unless it is unreasonable to do so, the body should comply with your request.

Please remember that your right to access is a general right. Local bodies and government departments do not have to give you the information you are seeking if the cost to them of gathering it would exceed £450 and £600 respectively. Also, there are twenty-three exemptions which prevent access.

For example, you will not be given what you’ve asked for if the information could be:

  • Prejudicial to national security or international relations;
  • Commercially sensitive;
  • Confidential; or
  • Not in the public interest to release.

Neither would you be given personal data about other people if to do so would breach the Data Protection Act 1998.

How to complain

In the first instance, you should complain to the body concerned if you’ve reason to believe that it has responded improperly to your request for information. If, having exhausted their complaints procedure, you’re still unhappy, you may complain to the Information Commissioner. In due course, you will receive a Decision Notice from the Commissioner. Both you and the body may appeal against a Decision Notice to the Information Tribunal.