This snapshot, taken on
22/06/2011
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What is Freedom of Information?

The right to Freedom of Information is set out in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The act gives everyone a legal right to see information held by public bodies, including The National Archives. You have the right to see both:

  • information in the archives that was transferred to us from other government departments
  • information that applies to our own administrative records

What does Freedom of Information apply to?

Freedom of Information applies to information, whatever its age, and whether it is at The National Archives or still held by the originating government department.

Information is assumed to be open from the time it is created, unless one of the exemptions set out in the Freedom of Information Act applies.

There are separate Environmental Information Regulations giving similar rights of access to environmental information.

What are exemptions?

The exemptions set out in the Freedom of Information Act are grounds for the public body to withhold information. Exemptions are:

  • clearly defined in the Freedom of Information Act
  • limited in number 
  • usually used where some harm might result if the information were to be released.

Which public bodies are covered by Freedom of Information?

The legislation covers a wide range of public sector bodies, including government departments, non-departmental public bodies, the armed forces, the National Health Service, local government, the police, colleges, universities and schools. A full list is in Schedule I to the Act.

Freedom of Information does not apply to information held by the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the Special Forces, or any unit or part-unit assisting GCHQ.

Does the Act cover the whole of the UK?

The Act applies to England and Wales, to Northern Ireland, and to information held by UK-wide authorities.

It applies to authorities in Scotland only when they are exercising UK-wide functions. Information held by the Scottish Parliament and Administration is covered by the Scottish Freedom of Information Act 2002.