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Freedom of Information

November 19, 2009

The Freedom of Information Act gives you the right to obtain information held by public authorities unless there are good reasons to keep it confidential.

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, the public authority does not have to confirm or deny the existence of the information or provide it if an exemption applies, the request is vexatious or similar to a previous request, or if the cost of compliance exceeds an appropriate limit.
If exemption applies, but is qualified, this means that the public authority must decide whether the public interest in using the exemption outweighs the public interest in releasing the information.
If an applicant is unhappy with a refusal to disclose information, they can complain to the ICO, after first exhausting any internal review procedure. They will investigate the case and either uphold the authority’s use of an exemption or decide that the information must be disclosed.
For more information, visit the Information Commissioner’s Office or look at their factsheet and ten top tips leaflet
For your request to be dealt with according to the FOIA, you must:

  1. contact the relevant authority directly;
  2. make the request in writing, for example in a letter or an email;
  3. give your real name; and
  4. give an address to which the authority can reply. This can be a postal or email address.