Freedom of Information
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) was introduced to foster a culture of openness across the public sector. It does this in two ways:
- FOIA obliges public authorities to proactively make information available through publication schemes;
- FOIA gives the public a general right of access to information held by public authorities
This is supported by a framework of exemptions when information should properly be withheld the Act gives certain powers to the Information Commissioner to promote access to official information and to enforce certain elements of the Act.
Greater detail can be found on the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) website www.ico.org.uk. Specific information for each House, including what information is included in their publication scheme and how to request access to information, can be found on the Commons- and Lords-specific information pages.
The Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR) are similar to the Freedom of Information Act but are limited specifically to information regarding the environment. The EIR grant a right for any person to request access to environmental information held by public authorities and for public authorities to take steps to proactively make environmental information available to the public. The EIR interpret 'environmental information' widely, with the scope to include information such as health and safety policies or details about recycling.
Requests for information
Any individual is entitled to ask a public authority for access to information that it holds. Requests for access must be made in writing and they must include your name, an address for correspondence and a description of the information you would like to see. A response will be given within 20 working days. The response will either:
- Disclose the requested information.
- If the information is not held, state this fact.
- State that the requested information is exempt under one of the absolute exemptions identified in FOIA and that the information cannot therefore be disclosed, or
- State that the requested information is exempt under one of the qualified exemptions identified in FOIA and that the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosure and that the information cannot therefore be disclosed.
Greater detail on the process of requesting access to information from the House of Commons.
Greater detail on the process of requesting access to information from the House of Lords.
Guidance from the Information Commissioner's Office for applicants can be found on the Information Commissioner's website.
In general, the Freedom of Information Act applies to the House of Commons and the House of Lords, which are separate statutory authorities for the purposes of the Act. However, it does not apply to:
- Information relating to any residential address of a member of either House of Parliament.
- Information relating to travel arrangements of a member of either House of Parliament, where the arrangements relate to travel that has not yet been undertaken or is regular in nature.
- Information relating to the identity of any person who delivers or has delivered goods, or provides or has provided services, to a member of either House of Parliament at any residence of the member.
- Information relating to expenditure by a member of either House of Parliament on security arrangements.
The second bullet point above does not except information relating to the total amount of expenditure incurred on regular travel during any month.
The Act allows public authorities to withhold information if it falls within certain categories. These categories include:
- Personal information, on the basis that this information can either be requested under the Data Protection Act or that it would breach the Data Protection Act to share this information.
- Environmental information on the basis that this information can be requested under the Environmental Information Regulations.
- Confidential information.
- Information that, if disclosed, would infringe the privileges of either House of Parliament.
- Commercially sensitive information.
- Information protected by legal professional privilege.
- Information which, if disclosed, would prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs.
The EIR includes similar categories, known as exceptions.
Further details on the exemptions and how they apply can be found on the Information Commissioner's website.
Are there any restrictions on how you can use the information received?
The Act does not transfer copyright on any information supplied in response to a request made under the Freedom of Information Act. Information may be subject to parliamentary copyright or to third party copyright. Any infringement of copyright is the responsibility of the applicant. You will need to check whether copyright restrictions apply before copying or publishing (including on the Internet) information you receive in response to a Freedom of Information request.
Complaints and appeals
You are entitled to complain to us if you are not happy with the response to your request or if you have a comment regarding the publication scheme. Your complaint will be reviewed internally, according to the procedure of the House who handled your request or whose scheme you wish to comment on, which can be found on the Commons- and Lords-specific information pages. If you are not happy with the internal review of your request, you can appeal to the Information Commissioner's Office.