United Kingdom Law/Freedom of Information

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Freedom of information in the United Kingdom is controlled by the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, and Environmental Information Regulations 2004.

Making a request[edit]

A Freedom of Information request must be made in writing but that includes where the request is "transmitted by electronic means", for example, via email. The request must include the real name of the applicant and provide an address for a reply such as a postal or email address.

The WhatDoTheyKnow website provides a service which allows for requests to be made through the site which can be publicly viewed.

Exemptions[edit]

There are a number of exemptions, termed exceptions in the Environmental Information Regulations, which allow a public authority to decline to provide requested information in certain circumstances. Some are subject to a "public interest test" which requires the public authority to consider whether it is in the public interest to release information despite an exemption which may allow them to refuse to do so.

Fees[edit]

Public authorities can charge a fee in accordance with Section 9[1] of the FoI Act.

Section 12[2] of the FoI Act allows authorities to decline to comply with a request where the authority estimate to do so would exceed "the appropriate limit". That limit is defined by The Freedom of Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations 2004[3]. For authorities in Part I of Schedule 1[4] to the 2000 FoI Act, which includes most government departments, the House of Commons, the House of Lords, the armed forces, and the devolved administrations, it is currently £600. For all other public authorities, the appropriate limit is £450.

The appeals process[edit]

When the applicant is not satisfied with the response of the authority, the first step should be to attempt to informally discuss their concerns with the authority. If that isn't effective, the next step is to request that the authority caries out an internal review, where the handling of the request should be considered by someone at the authority not involved in the original decision.

If the applicant remains unhappy with the authority's handling of their request, they can make a complaint to the Information Commissioner's Office (the ICO). The ICO will investigate and may decide to issue a decision notice which will set out the Commissioner's view of the authority's handling and whether the Freedom of Information Act or the Environmental Information Regulations were complied with. The decision notice can require the authority to take steps as the Commissioner sees necessary.

Either party can if they wish appeal to the Information Tribunal if they are not satisfied with the Commissioner's decision notice.

Notable requests[edit]

News stories frequently report the outcomes of freedom of information requests considered notable. Heather Brooke's use of the Freedom of Information Act to request details of the expenses claims of Members of Parliament was part of what led to the United Kingdom Parliamentary expenses scandal.

Notes[edit]