What is Freedom of Information?
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) provides public access to information held by public authorities. It does this in two ways:
- public authorities are obliged to publish certain information about their activities
- members of the public are entitled to request information from public authorities
The FOIA covers any recorded information that is held by a public authority, which includes councils. It does not cover opinions and does not require public authorities to create new information.
Recorded information includes printed documents, computer files, letters, emails, photographs, and sound or video recordings.
The FOIA does not cover environmental information. Requests for environmental information are dealt with under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR).
What is Environmental Information?
Environmental information means any information in written, visual, aural, electronic or any other material form on:
- the state of the elements of the environment - such as air and atmosphere, water, soil, land, landscape and natural sites including wetlands, coastal and marine areas, biological diversity and its components, including genetically modified organisms, and the interaction among these elements
- factors, such as substances, energy, noise, radiation or waste, including radioactive waste, emissions, discharges and other releases into the environment, affecting or likely to affect the elements of the environment referred to in (1)
- measures (including administrative measures), such as policies, legislation, plans, programmes, environmental agreements, and activities affecting or likely to affect the elements and factors referred to in (1) and (2) as well as measures or activities designed to protect those elements
- reports on the implementation of environmental legislation
- cost-benefit and other economic analyses and assumptions used within the framework of the measures and activities referred to in (3)
- the state of human health and safety, including the contamination of the food chain, where relevant, conditions of human life, cultural sites and built structures inasmuch as they are or may be affected by the state of the elements of the environment referred to in (1) or, through those elements, by any of the matters referred to in (2) and (3).
Can I see all information held by the council?
You can ask to see any information that the council holds but we may not be able to disclose some information.
FOIA exemptions and EIR exceptions
There are 23 exemptions under the FOIA. Some are absolute - meaning that no information can be released, and others are conditional - which means that the disclosure of the information has to be weighed against the public interest test.
There are also several EIR exceptions, all of which require the public interest test to be considered.
If you would like to find out more information about the FOIA exemptions or the EIR exceptions, please see the Information Commissioner’s Office.
The FOIA and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations 2004 identify the fees and charges public sector bodies are permitted to charge in response to requests for information under the FOIA.
The regulations cover the estimation of costs in association with a request for information, the fee that can be levied and the recovery of postage, printing and photocopying costs where appropriate.
The FOIA fee threshold is £450 which is known as the "appropriate limit". No fee can be levied for requests that are estimated to cost £450 or less (based on 18 hours at the Government's recommended charge of £25 per hour).
If the estimated fee exceeds the appropriate limit, a public authority is not obliged to answer the request. The request would be refused under S12 of the FOIA and the requester will be offered assistance to modify the request to reduce the cost.
A public authority may, at its discretion, offer the requester the opportunity to pay a charge in order for the request to be answered. In this case, a fees notice will be issued and no further action will be taken until a fee is received. If the fee is not received within 3 months of the notice being issued, it will be assumed that the information is no longer required and the case will be closed.
The activities that can be taken into account in estimating the cost of a request are:
- determining whether the information is held
- locating and retrieving it, and
- extracting it
Time taken to consider whether any exemptions apply to all or part of the information cannot be taken into account.
EIR requests cannot be refused on the grounds of cost. However, a reasonable charge can be made for environmental information which can include:
- staff time taken to locate, retrieve and extract the information
- disbursement costs in transferring the information to the requester (ie photocopying and postage)
Commercial charges can be made in limited circumstances, such as where information is made available on a commercial basis and charge is necessary to ensure such information continues to be collected and published.
Charges for environmental information cannot be made for the overhead costs of holding the information, or staff time spent reviewing or redacting the information.
Requesters can inspect environmental information in situ free of charge.
Re-use of public sector information
More information is available from The National Archives
How do I appeal or make a complaint?
If you are not happy with the way your information request has been dealt with, you can ask the council in writing (including by email) to carry out an internal review.
If you are still not satisfied with the outcome, you can complain to the Information Commissioner