28 January 2019
The Freedom of Information Act – Your ‘Right To Find Out’
The purpose of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI Act) is to provide access to information held by public authorities. It obliges them to publish certain information about their activities. But members of the public are also entitled to request information from these authorities.
The FOI Act covers any recorded information held by a public authority. The aim of the Act is to make public authorities accountable for their actions, and to encourage greater public trust in public sector bodies.
What public authorities are included? Government departments, local authorities, the NHS, state schools and police forces are all covered. But some institutions are not, such as certain charities who receive grants, and private sector organisations that perform public functions.
The information that can be published is varied. It includes printed documents, computer files, letters, emails, photographs, sound or video recordings. But purely private employee information is not covered, even if on a work computer or email account. Nor is personal data that the organisation may hold included, such as health records or employment records. (This type of information comes under different legislation, and it can be sought by a subject access request under the Data Protection Act 2018.)
Who can make a FOI request? Anyone. Individuals – even if not a UK citizen or resident – as well as organisations such as newspapers, campaign groups or companies. Requests should be sent to the public authority which holds the information.
Every public authority is required to have a publication scheme approved by the Information Commissioner’s Office. The scheme needs to outline a commitment to make certain classes of information routinely available e.g. policies and procedures, minutes of meetings, annual reports and financial information.