Department for Work and Pensions

home

Site navigation

Freedom of information


Freedom of Information

The Freedom of Information (FoI) Act 2000 gives everyone the right to access information held by public authorities.

DWP already makes a lot of information available to you. Before you request information from us, please try the steps listed below. If you still can't find what you are looking for, you can make a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

Routine requests for information outside Freedom of Information

DWP is a vast organisation and a large part of our daily business is to provide information to the huge range of people who use, or are interested in, our services. This means that large amounts of information are already provided routinely and without question without the need to engage Freedom of Information.

You should, in the first place, approach the local office that normally handles your claim or other relationship with the Department. If the request is not for them to answer they will forward it on to the appropriate part of DWP.

There are many government departments who hold a wide variety of information. For example, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) hold information about employment history, National Insurance (NI) Contributions, Child Benefit and Tax Credits.

Freedom of Information requests

On this page you will find:

About Freedom of Information

Making a Request

Refusals and Complaints

Further information and related links

top of page

Freedom of Information (FoI)

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act) received Royal Assent on 30 November 2000 and came fully into force on 1 January 2005.

The Act gives any person, of any nationality, anywhere in the world, the right to request official information from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and other public authorities. This right is subject to certain exemptions.

The DWP approach to the release of information is a positive one, based on the assumption that information will normally be made available unless it is specifically exempt under the Act and where disclosure is not in the public interest. All requests received in DWP will be handled on their own merits and each request will be assessed against Freedom of Information criteria.

top of page

Who does Freedom of Information (FoI) apply to?

FoI applies to all public bodies including government departments, the police, local authorities, schools, hospitals and surgeries. In the case of DWP this will apply to the whole department including its delivery agencies (Jobcentre Plus and the Pension, Disability and Carers Service).

top of page

I live in Scotland, does the Act still apply?

Yes. Scotland has introduced its own Freedom of Information legislation to cover all bodies within the remit of the Scottish Parliament. DWP offices in Scotland are not covered by the Scottish legislation. The UK FoI Act applies to all sections of DWP in Scotland as well as England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

top of page

Role of the Information Commissioner

Responsibility for overseeing the operation of the FoI Act rests with the Information Commissioner who is an independent public official responsible directly to Parliament. As well as approving Publication Schemes and promoting compliance with the legislation, the Commissioner has powers of enforcement. In particular, after the investigation of complaints they will issue a Decision Notice setting out any action they require a public authority to take to fulfil its obligations. The Commissioner is also responsible for overseeing and, where necessary, enforcing the rules for the processing of personal information set out in the Data Protection Act 1998.

top of page

What are the Access Rights?

Anybody, whether an individual person or corporate body such as a private company, can apply to have access to any recorded information held by the Department. This means that potentially all information held by DWP can be released no matter in what form it is held, for example, registered paper files, electronic documents, notebooks or miscellaneous collections of paper.

The Freedom of Information Act is “purpose blind”, meaning that you do not have to provide a reason for your request.

The Act also provides you with the right to be told whether the information you want exists or not, but this is subject to certain exemptions.

You can specify the manner in which you wish to receive the information, for example, a copy, summary or to actually inspect the record. We will make every effort to comply with your request, as far as is reasonably practical.

top of page

How do I make a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act?

Your request for information must:

top of page

Can I ask for information about myself under Freedom of Information?

Release of information under FoI is, in effect, release to the world at large. DWP has a duty to protect personal information under Data Protection legislation and common law.

Requests for personal information about yourself or other living individuals/third parties

We will handle your request in line with the Data Protection Act 1998 instead of the Freedom of Information Act. If you request information about a third party, we will only disclose information if it will not breach any of the Data Protection principles and if there is an appropriate gateway to do so.

Requests for personal information about a deceased person

The Data Protection Act does not apply to personal information about deceased persons. However, DWP operates a strict Duty of Confidentiality policy towards personal information held about deceased persons. You should make any requests for personal information relating to a deceased person to your local DWP office, which will consider whether information can be disclosed to you in line with DWP policies.

top of page

How long should I wait for a reply?

A reply should be sent to you within 20 working days of the Department receiving your request. If your request is complicated we may need longer that 20 working days but if this is the case we will let you know within the original 20 day period and will keep you informed of the progress of your request.

top of page

Can you refuse to give me the information I ask for?

Yes, in certain circumstances. The following information explains these circumstances.

Exemptions

The Act contains a number of exemptions to the right of access to information. The exemptions allow some information to be withheld, to protect various interests.

Most exemptions have to be considered in two stages:

However, some information is covered by what is known as an "absolute" exemption. In these cases it is not necessary to consider whether there is a public interest in disclosure.

Charges

DWP provides information in response to a request free of charge. However, if it will cost us more than £600 or take longer than three and a half working days to find the information and prepare it for release, we can turn down your request, or ask you to narrow it down so that it does not exceed the £600 limit. We can include the following when assessing costs:

In the rare event that we decide to consider charging you, we will advise you fully before we continue with your request. We will calculate any charges in line with the Freedom of Information Fees Regulations.

Information not held by DWP

If we do not hold the information you asked for but believe that another public body does, we will give you the details on how you can contact them to request the information.

top of page

What happens if you don't give me the information I want?

We will write to you to explain:

top of page

How can I complain if you have not provided the information I requested?

If you are not happy with the outcome of your request you can ask us to have another look at your request, how it was handled and our decision.

Contact the person who responded to your request, or email us at: Freedom-of-Information-Request@dwp.gsi.gov.uk

Internal review

A member of DWP staff who was not part of the original decision-making process will then undertake an internal review. This person will normally be of a more senior grade to the person who originally decided on your request. They will look at all aspects of your request again and inform you of their new decision. This decision may support the original, may overturn it or may provide you with new information.

A reply should be sent to you within 20 working days although we may need to take longer if certain exemptions from disclosure apply.

Review by the Information Commissioner

If you are still not satisfied after we have looked at your request again, you can then ask the Information Commissioner to look into the way your request has been handled.

The Commissioner is an independent public official who is appointed by Her Majesty the Queen and who reports directly to Parliament. The Commissioner will see all the papers about your request and decide whether our decision is fair and meets the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.

Contact the Commissioner at:

Information Commissioner's Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
Cheshire
SK9 5AF
Fax: 01625 524 510
www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk

top of page

Further information

If you would like more information about how DWP implements the Freedom of Information Act, contact the DWP Central FoI Team at the address below. Please note that the FoI Team are a policy unit and have no access to the records or case papers of individual customers or clients of the department.

The Central FoI Team cannot deal with specific questions about your benefits or entitlements.

Charles Cushing
Department for Work and Pensions
Information and Devolution Policy
Central Freedom of Information Team
2nd Floor, The Adelphi
1 - 11 John Adam Street
London
WC2N 6HT

E-mail: freedom-of-information-request@dwp.gsi.gov.uk

top of page

Related links