The Freedom of Information Act (FoI; 2000) and the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR; 2004) establish a right of access to recorded information held by public authorities, such as e-mails, meeting minutes, research or reports.
A public authority includes:
- Central government and government departments
- Local authorities
- Hospitals, doctors’ surgeries, dentists, pharmacists and opticians
- State schools, colleges and universities
- Police forces and prison services
Both the FoI and EIR provide means of gaining access to information and are aimed at encouraging organisations to be more open and publish information pro-actively.
Information on FOI can be found here: http://www.ico.gov.uk/what_we_cover/freedom_of_information.aspx.
Information on EIR can be found here:
The FoI obliges every public authority to adopt, maintain and periodically review a scheme for the publication of information approved by the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Voluntary Application of FoI
As a registered charity, London Higher is not presently covered by the FoI. However, we are committed to good practice and transparency and as such voluntarily operate under FoI and EIR.
Whilst London Higher has also voluntarily created a publication scheme, this scheme cannot be formally enforced by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), nor can the ICO investigate FoI complaints against organisations such London Higher which is not formally covered by the legislation.
Application of the Freedom of Information Act
FoI is fully retrospective and applies to all information held. A public authority must:
- respond to a written request for information within 20 working days
- return information in the format requested
- must provide advice and assistance to anyone seeking information
However, information requests can be denied if:
- there are exemptions
- the request is vexatious or similar to a previous request
- if the cost of compliance exceeds an appropriate limit
Certain exemptions are subject to a public interest test; a decision must then be made as to whether it is in the public interest to disclose the information in question.
Applicants can make a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office who can investigate the use of exemptions or other refusals (you are permitted to exhaust your own internal FoI complaints procedure before a complainant is referred to the ICO.)
Exemptions to FOI requests
Records exempt from FOI include information:
- accessible to applicant by other means (e.g. through a Publication Scheme)
- intended for future publication
- draft documents
- supplied by, or relating to, bodies dealing with security matters
- which, if disclosed, would prejudice national security
- which, if disclosed, would prejudice international relations
- being held for investigations and proceedings conducted by public authorities
- which, if disclosed, would prejudice law enforcement
- contained in Court records
- which, if disclosed, would prejudice the exercise of any authority’s audit functions
- covered by Parliamentary privilege
- which, if disclosed, would be prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs
- which, if disclosed, could endanger the health and safety of any individual
- which is already available to the public under Environmental Regulations
- classed as Personal
- provided in Confidence
- which constitutes a trade secret or which, if disclosed, would prejudice commercial interests
- whose disclosure is prohibited by any enactment, is incompatible with any community obligation or which would be punishable as a contempt of Court
Further information can be found at http://www.ico.gov.uk/what_we_cover/freedom_of_information/guidance.aspx.