The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI Act) gives everyone the right to “recorded” information held by public authorities (and those providing services for them). It sets out exemptions and places a number of obligations on public authorities. [see Information Commissioner’s Office: Freedom of Information]
Under the FOI Act any person making a request to a public authority for information is entitled to the information wherever that information is held, and to have that information communicated to them.
The Act covers any recorded information that is held by a public authority in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and by UK-wide public authorities based in Scotland. Information held by Scottish public authorities is covered by Scotland’s own Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.
Public authorities include government departments, local authorities, the NHS, state schools and police forces. However, the Act does not necessarily cover every organisation that receives public money. For example, it does not cover some charities that receive grants and certain private sector organisations that perform public functions.
Recorded information includes printed documents, computer files, letters, emails, photographs, and sound or video recordings.
The Act does not give people access to their own personal data (information about themselves) such as their health records or credit reference file. If a member of the public wants to see information that a public authority holds about them, they should make a subject access request under the Data Protection Act 1998.
See Information Commissioners Office: Freedom of Information
The Information Commissioner promotes good practice, and makes sure that public authorities comply with the Act. It publishes guidance and gives advice about the FOI Act. Only some of the data protection principles apply to personal data held by public authorities.
The Ministry of Justice publishes guidance on Information Access Rights.
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