How to make a freedom of information request


In this article we provide a summary of how to make a freedom of information (FOI) request.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) explains that the The Freedom of Information Act 2000 provides public access to information held by public authorities.

It does this in two ways:

  • Public authorities are obliged to publish certain information about their activities
  • Members of the public are entitled to request information from public authorities

Public authorities include government departments, local authorities, the NHS, state schools and police forces. However, the Act does not necessarily cover every organisation that receives public money. For example, it does not cover some charities that receive grants and certain private sector organisations that perform public functions.

Recorded information includes printed documents, computer files, letters, emails, photographs and sound or video recordings.

The Act does not give people access to their own personal data (information about themselves) such as their health records or credit reference file. If a member of the public wants to see information that a public authority holds about them, they should make a subject access request.

How to make a freedom of information request

GOV.UK explains you have the right to ask to see recorded information held by public authorities. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives you the right to see information.

You must make a FOI request in writing. You can do it by:

  • Letter
  • Email
  • Social media
  • Online form – check the organisation’s website or the government department’s page to see if they have an online form
  • Fax

Before making a freedom of information request

You might not need to make a FOI request if the organisation has:

  • Already published the information
  • Previously responded to an FOI request

Check their website for responses to previous FOI requests. This is sometimes known as a ‘disclosure log’. You can search for published responses to FOI requests from government departments, agencies and arms length bodies.

You can also email or phone the organisation to ask if they’ve already published the information or responded to an FOI request.

When you will get a response?

The organisation should send you the information within 20 working days of receiving your request. Some schools are allowed more time during school holidays. The organisation will tell you when to expect the information if they need more time.

Do I have to pay to make a freedom of information request?

Most requests are free but you might be asked to pay a small amount for photocopies or postage. The organisation will tell you if you have to pay anything.

What should I do if my request is turned down?

Some sensitive information is not available to members of the public. If this applies, an organisation must tell you why they cannot give you some or all of the information you requested. They might ask you to be more specific so they can provide just the information you need.

An organisation can also refuse your FOI request if getting information will cost more than £450, or £600 if the organisation is:

  • A government department, Parliament or part of the armed forces
  • The Northern Ireland Assembly or the Welsh Assembly
  • Based in Scotland

If an organisation does not provide you with the information you requested, you should first ask them to review their decision.

If you’re not satisfied with the organisation’s response, you can complain to the information commissioner.

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The information contained within this article is not a complete or final statement of the law.
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