Freedom of information advice
The right to know
You have the right to ask for information held by public bodies.
This the right to know. It is part of:
- the Freedom of Information Act (FOI)
- the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR)
The FOI and the EIR allow you access recorded information on public issues. You can access such as emails, meeting minutes, research or reports held by public authorities in England, Northern Ireland and Wales.
A public authority includes:
- central government and government departments
- local authorities and councils
- hospitals, doctors' surgeries, dentists, pharmacists and opticians
- state schools, colleges and universities
- police forces and prison services
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) enforces and promotes the FOI and the EIR. The ICO has responsibility for making sure public bodies:
- disclose information promptly
- lawfully apply any exemptions from disclosure
The Data Protection Act
The Data Protection Act (DPA) is a separate act from the FOI and EIR acts.
The DPA gives you the right of access to personal data and protects it from others.
As a general rule, public bodies cannot release information about you to others under the FOI and EIA that you can access under the DPA.
A public body can disclose some personal information to third parties if they deem it does not breach the data protection principles set out in the DPA.
Exemptions and the public interest test
There are some types of data that public bodies do not need disclose. These are exemptions.
Where information falls under an absolute exemption, the harm to the public interest that would result from its disclosure is already established, so there is no public interest test.
We must apply the public interest test if information falls under a qualified exemption.
The public interest test favours disclosure where a qualified exemption applies. We can only withhold information if we think the public interest in withholding is greater than the public interest in disclosing it.