If the organisation you are dealing with is a public authority you may find it useful to use the Freedom of Information Act (2000) to obtain certain kinds of information.
What are public authorities
- Government departments.
- Councils or Local Authorities.
- State funded schools, college and universities.
- NHS organisations (GPs, hospitals, dentists etc).
What information can I get through Freedom of Information requests?
- Organisations’ policies and procedures.
- information about staffing and service provision.
- Numbers of people affected by a specific policy or practice.
Common confusion between Freedom of Information and Data Protection
It is important to note that Freedom of Information does not cover your personal information, for that you will need to see the Data Protection Act – the two are often mixed up, so make sure you use the correct one.
More information and support with making Freedom of Information requests
If you are interested in making Freedom of Information requests or indeed looking through what requests other people have made, we recommend the What Do They Know website. You can make your request through What Do They Know and benefit from their guidance and tracking features as well as ensuring the answer is publicly available for others to read.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) have some Freedom of Information pages which include more information about public authorities and making requests.
How to make your Freedom of Information request
While you do not have to state that you are making a Freedom of Information Act request it is a good idea to do this and follow an organisation’s published procedures to get it answered promptly. When writing your request you should think carefully about what you want and how much data or information might be involved. Organisations can legitimately refuse to answer any of your requests if it would take them too long to gather the data.
Timescales of requests
Recipients of a request have 20 working days (excluding weekends and bank holidays) to respond but should respond sooner if they can. It can be useful to end your request with words showing that you know about the deadline and setting a date for response a day or two after that.
Organisations can be pretty poor at responding to Freedom of Information requests, so if they don’t reply in time, or reply at the last minute claiming they need more time or that you have not followed policy, you can reply asking them to conduct an “internal review” of how they have handled your request. This usually makes them sort things quickly. If you still get nowhere you can report them. As a last resort you can complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) but you should know that they are very slow to respond or take any action.