Freedom of Information

Background

The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000 received Royal Assent on 30 November 2000.

Scope of the Act

The Act applies to all public authorities. Schedule 1 to the Act gives more details but the term 'public authorities' is defined very widely and it has been estimated that some 75,000 bodies are involved.

Implementation

The Act has to be fully implemented across the public sector by 30 November 2005 and the Lord Chancellor (whose Department has lead responsibility for the Act) announced on 13 November 2001 how this will be achieved. For City University the relevant parts of the implementation timetable are as follows:

  • By February 2004 we must bring into effect a Publication Scheme.
  • By January 2005 we must - along with all other public authorities - answer requests for information within the terms of the individual right of access given by the Act.

Publication Schemes

The Act requires each public authority to adopt and maintain a Publication Scheme. The purpose of Publication Schemes is to specify the classes of information that the authority publishes or intends to publish; the form in which this is or will be done; and whether there is any charge for the information. Each scheme must be approved by the Information Commissioner.

Right to Information

When the individual right of access is implemented it will apply to all types of recorded information held by public authorities regardless of the date of the information. The Act does, however, set out some exemptions to this right. It also places a number of obligations on public authorities about the way in which they provide information. Subject to the exemptions, anyone making a request must be informed whether the public authority holds the information and, if so, be supplied with it - generally within 20 working days. There is also a duty to provide advice or assistance to anyone seeking information (for example in order to explain what is readily available or to clarify what is wanted).

Charging

There is no obligation for a public authority to provide information if the estimated cost of doing so would exceed an 'appropriate limit'.

Right to Appeal

In any case where a request for information under the individual right of access is denied, it may be possible to appeal against the decision. In the first instance we would want any such appeals to be referred for in-house review by City University, but there will also be a right of appeal to the Information Commissioner.

Information Commissioner

Responsibility for overseeing the operation of the Act rests with the Information Commissioner who is an independent public official responsible directly to Parliament. As well as approving Publication Schemes and promoting compliance with the Act, the Commissioner has powers of enforcement.