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Freedom of Information

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“the Act”) aims to make government more transparent by empowering the general public to request and gain access to information held by public authorities. Public authorities that the Act applies to includes government departments, the NHS, state schools and local authorities.


The Act

The Act means:

  • Public authorities are obliged to publish certain information about the work they carry out; and
  • The public are entitled to request to see information held by these public authorities and it must be disclosed unless an exemption applies.

Requests must be made in the way specified by the Act for them to be valid and require the public authority to respond.

Exemptions to Freedom of Information

There are a number of exemptions under the Act. The common exemptions include:

  • Information accessible by other means;
  • Information relating to the formulation of government policy;
  • Information that, if disclosed, would inhibit frank and free advice or the exchange of views within public authorities;
  • Information subject to a legal duty of confidence;
  • Trade secrets and commercially sensitive information; and
  • Personal and sensitive data, including health records, are exempt from being disclosed through the Act if the disclosure would breach data protection laws. In these instances a public authority could redact the document or in some circumstances the individual requesting the data may be able to seek the information through a subject access request.

Responding to Freedom of Information Requests

The Act imposes two obligations on businesses:

  1. Tell the applicant whether any information is held within the scope of their request; and
  2. Provide the information.

Requests must be responded to within 20 working days of receiving it or (if the public interest test applies) within a time period which is considered “reasonable in the circumstances”.

Similarly to UK GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018, the Act is regulated by the Information Commissioners Office who is responsible for upholding information rights in the public interest.

Whether you’ve received a request for information and need assistance with replying to it or would like advice on how to make a request, we can advise you on the steps you need to take.

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