The Freedom of Information Act 2000 gives people the right to request information from public authorities, which includes us.
We have a statutory responsibility to comply with the requirements of the act – in particular being able to respond to requests for information in the correct and appropriate manner.
The following information is intended as a general guide to the FOI Act in order to raise awareness of the act and the responsibilities involved.
Why a Freedom of Information Act?
The FOI Act gives people the right to request information from public authorities. It is intended to promote a culture of openness and accountability amongst public sector bodies, and therefore facilitate better public understanding of how public authorities carry out their duties, why they make the decisions they do, and how they spend public money.
What exactly is the Freedom of Information Act?
The act provides individuals from anywhere in the world a right of access (upon request) to information held by the council. The Act covers all information, regardless of the format in which it is held, or the period in the council's history from which it derives. However the Act does only cover information currently held by the council and not any information previously in the council's possession that may have been legitimately deleted.
Requests have to:
- Be made in writing (this can include electronic requests, email etc.).
- Include a name and address for a response (this can be an email address if the response can be made electronically).
- Provide as much detail as possible in order to enable the information requested to be identified).
- State the preferred form in which the response should be made (hardcopy, personal viewing or electronically). We will always try to comply with these preferences although this may not always be practicable.
Generally the FOI Act gives people access to information which does not fall under either of the following access regimes:
- The Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) enables individuals access to information of which they are the subject, e.g. someone's own education/medical records, credit reference file etc. The DPA is not restricted to information held by/on behalf of public authorities or those bodies carrying out a public function nor is its purpose limited to the right of access to information.
- The Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIRs) enables people access to environmental information. They are restricted to information held by/on behalf of public authorities and those bodies carrying out a public function.
The FOI Act does allow certain exemptions. Examples of areas in which exemptions may apply include such matters where disclosure may constitute a contempt of court or there are overriding commercial interests. However exemptions will require detailed and careful consideration before being used as a valid reason not to disclose information. In many cases a general public interest test will apply in determining whether information can be released.
The FOI Act may cover all requests for information held by us. In most cases, personal data is exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act and should always be dealt with in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998. It is worth noting however that personal data considered to be 'in the public interest' may be requested and disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act.
FOI requests on Social Media
We will accept Freedom of Information requests via our main Twitter and Facebook accounts as long as they are submitted from an identified person or organisation. More guidance on this is provided by The Information Commissioner’s Office [external link].
How can people access information under the FOI Act?
There are two routes to accessing information via FOI. Anybody can obtain information from us from an approved Publication Scheme. However, if the information is not included in the publication scheme, people can make a separate request under the General Right of Access to information.
As part of the drive to create a proactive, openness culture within the public sector, the act requires us to adopt, publish and maintain a 'Publication Scheme' [internal link], essentially a guide to interested parties, divided into "classes of information", which sets out details of the types of information we routinely publishes.
The council policy for handling information request is explained in the FOI Policy [286KB].
Is there a charge for supplying information?
The charges relating to Freedom of information are somewhat complicated but are explained in the our FOI Charging Policy [272KB].
Who is responsible for ensuring we comply with the FOI Act?
We have identified the role of Information Officer with responsibility for:
- Rights of access to information under Freedom of Information Act 2000.
- Determining how to deal with a request.
- Providing a source of advice and support for council staff.
- Acting as the conduit through which legal advice on the legislation is sought and given (with advice from the our Legal officers).
- Providing advice and assistance to people who have made, or are thinking of making a request.
Re-using information supplied under the Freedom of Information Act (and other Information regimes)
In the United Kingdom most information produced by the public sector is subject to copyright protection.
The supply of documents to you by us (for example under the FOIA) does not give you a right to re-use them in a way that would infringe that copyright, for example, by making multiple copies, publishing and issuing copies to the public.
Brief extracts of any of the material may be reproduced without our permission, under the fair dealing provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (sections 29 and 30) for the purposes of research, private study, and, subject to an acknowledgement of ourselves as the copyright owner, criticism, review and news reporting. But wider re-use requires our permission.
We may choose to allow re-use under licence, imposing conditions on the re-use of the information to ensure it is not used in a manner inconsistent with our copyright; and we may also decide to charge a re-use fee.
For authorisation to re-use copyright material not owned by us, you should contact the copyright holders direct.
When we release information you may ask if you can re-use the information, perhaps for commercial purposes, in a way which, without permission, might breach our copyright.