The Freedom of Information Act was passed into law in the year 2000, this followed many years of work to make the act a reality by campaign groups, however the full provisions of the act did not come into force until 2005.
There are two functions to the Act, these are for a ‘public authority’ to routinely publish information (via a publication scheme) and they must also answer requests for information made by members of the public or by professionals seeking information that is not in the public domain.
Requests are free and it is your legal right to obtain information that is timely and cost efficiently available for an Authority to supply. See making a request.
Requests for information not already in the public domain
- Anyone professional or otherwise can write to a public authority and ask to be provided with information.
- The law says the public authority has to reply to the request promptly and in any case withing 20 working days, (one month) in most circumstances, to say whether the information is withheld.
- If it is held the authority either has to disclose it, or rely on one of the Act’s exemptions to refuse the request.
- Information can be in any of the following formats printed documents, computer files, letters, emails, photographs, sound or video recordings and more.
As well as responding to requests for information under the Act public authorities are also required to publish information on a regular basis.
Each authority must have a publication scheme, which sets out the information it routinely publishes.
The Information Commissioner’s Office provides a model publication scheme detailing the information, which must be published routinely, authorities are free to add to this but must publish the minimum information set out by the scheme.
The publication scheme should be made by each authority on its website.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) governs the FOI Act as well as other duties involving the management of Data Protection issues.