Freedom Of Information Act

This page contains information on the rights you have under the Freedom of Information Act, including how to make requests for information, what happens after you make your request, costs, and your right of appeal.

  • How to make a request
  • What you can ask for and who you can ask
  • What it costs
  • If you request is refused
  • Your right of appeal
  • The information you receive

How to make a request

Any person can make a request under the Act – there are no restrictions on your age, nationality, or where you live.

All you have to do is write to (or email) the public authority that you think holds the information you want. You should make sure that you include:

  • your name
  • an address where you can be contacted
  • a description of the information that you want

You don’t have to mention the Freedom of Information Act, but there is no reason not to if you want to.

You should try to describe the information you want in as much detail as possible – for example “minutes of the meeting where the decision to do X was made”, rather than “everything you have about X”. This will help the public authority find the information you need.

Public authorities must comply with your request promptly, and should provide the information to you within 20 working days (around a month). If they need more time, they must write to you and tell you when they will be able to answer your request, and why they need more time.

What you can ask for and who you can ask

The Freedom of Information Act applies to all ‘public authorities’ – this includes

  • central and local government
  • the health service
  • schools, colleges and universities
  • the police
  • lots of other non-departmental public bodies, committees and advisory bodies.

You can ask for any information at all – but some information might be withheld to protect various interests which are allowed for by the Act. If this is case, the public authority must tell you that they have withheld information and why.

If you ask for information about yourself, then your request will be handled under the Data Protection Act instead of the Freedom of Information Act. You have slightly different rights to this information, different fees apply and public authorities have longer to respond to these requests.

Scotland has its own Freedom of Information Act, which is very similar to the England, Wales and Northern Ireland Act. If the public authority you want to make a request to operates only in Scotland then your request will handled under the Scottish Act instead.

More about which organisations are covered by Freedom of Information

More information about FOI in Scotland

More about how requests for information are handled

More about why information can be withheld

More about making requests for personal information

What it costs

Most requests are free. You might be asked to pay a small amount for making photocopies or postage.

If the public authority thinks that it will cost them more than £450 (or £600 for a request to central government) to find the information and prepare it for release, then they can turn down your request. They might ask you to narrow down your request by being more specific in the information you’re looking for.

    If your request is refused

    If a public authority is withholding all or some of the information that you have asked for, they must tell you why – for example, to protect national security or someone’s health and safety.

    Your right of appeal

    If your request is refused, you should first ask the public authority for an internal review of their decision. Someone in the authority who was not connected with the initial decision should carry out this review.

    If you have already done this, or the public authority refuses to review their decision, you can appeal to the independent Information Commissioner. He has the power to investigate the way the public authority handled your request and the answer they gave. If he agrees that they have wrongly withheld information, he can order them to disclose it to you.

    How to appeal to the Information Commissioner

    Contact details for the Information Commissioner

      The information you receive

      You may request that the information be given to you in a particular form. However, a public authority may take into account the cost of supplying the information in this form before complying with your request. In particular, you may ask for information in permanent form, in summary form, or for permission to inspect records containing the information.

      It may also be possible for public authorities to supply the information in Braille or audio format, in large type, or translated into another language. However, you should discuss this with the individual public authority.

      The Freedom of Information Act does not place restrictions on how you may use the information you receive under it. However, the Act does not transfer copyright in any information supplied under it. If you plan to re-produce the information you receive, you should ensure that you will not be breaching anyone’s copyright by doing so.

      © Crown Copyright


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