Freedom of Information Act 2000

The Act gives individuals (or organisations) the right to request information held by a public authority. They must do this by letter or email.

The public authority must tell the applicant whether it holds the information, and must normally supply it within 20 working days, in the format requested.

However, where information is subject to an exemption, the public authority does not have to provide the information. Some exemptions are absolute and others are qualified. If public authorities use a qualified exemption to withhold information then they must decide whether the public interest in using the exemption outweighs the public interest in releasing the information. This is called the public interest test.

If an applicant is unhappy with a refusal to disclose information, they can ask the public authority to carry out an internal review. If they are unhappy with the outcome of the review they can complain to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO). The ICO will investigate the case and either uphold the authority's use of an exemption or decide that the information must be disclosed.

Public authorities must also have an online publication scheme setting out the information which they make routinely available and a guide on how to get it.

The FOI Act is fully retrospective and applies to all information, not just information filed since the Act came into force.

The full text of the Act is available from the Office of Public Sector Information.

Last updated: 26 Mar 2009