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 information.
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 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.
The “public interest” is not defined within the Act but it has been variously described as “something which is of serious concern and benefit to the public", not merely something of individual interest. It has also been held that public interest does not mean “of interest to the public” but “in the interest of the public” , i.e. it serves the interests of the public.
Young people can also ask for information. If you are under 12 years of age you may be asked to show that you understand what you are doing.
You do not have to give any reason for asking, although it may help the authority to give you the information you want if you can tell them what you are looking for and why. You also do not have to say that you are using your rights under Freedom of Information, but doing so may help the authority to respond appropriately.
You must give your name and a contact address (an email address is sufficient). If you do not provide a name or contact information, the authority does not have to respond to your request.