The Freedom of Information Act came into force at the beginning of 2005. It deals
with access to official information, while parallel regulations deal with environmental
The Act provides individuals or organisations with the right to request information
held by a public authority. They can do this by letter or email.
The Act is fully retrospective and applies to all information, not just information
filed since the Act came into force.
The public authority must tell the applicant whether it holds the information, and
must normally supply it within 20 working days, in the format requested.
However, the public authority does not have to confirm or deny the existence of the
information or provide it if an exemption applies, the request is vexatious or similar
to a previous request, or if the cost of compliance exceeds an appropriate limit.
If exemption applies, but is qualified, this means that the public authority must
decide whether the public interest in using the exemption outweighs the public interest
in releasing the information.
If an applicant is unhappy with a refusal to disclose information, they can complain
to the Information Commissioner's Office after first exhausting any internal review
procedure. The ICO will investigate the case and either uphold the authority's use
of an exemption or decide that the information must be disclosed.
Information must also be published through the public authority's publication scheme.
This must be approved by the ICO, and is a commitment by a public authority to make
certain information available, and a guide on how to get it.