Freedom of Information - a summary

Background

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FoIA) was passed on 30 November 2000 and will be brought fully into force, across the public sector, on 1 January 2005. The Act is enforced by the Information Commissioner, who oversees both Freedom of Information and Data Protection legislation. The Act covers ‘public authorities’ which have been defined in the Act and include Higher Education Institutions. The Act creates new rights of public access to all types of ‘recorded’ information held by public authorities, sets out exemptions from that general right, and places a number of obligations on public authorities. The aim of the FoIA is to promote greater openness & accountability across the public sector. It achieves this by giving public authorities two main responsibilities under the Act:

  • The University was committed to producing a publication scheme, which is a guide to the information we hold that is routinely made available to the public, such as websites and prospectuses etc. Under the Act, 'information' includes all information held anywhere within the institution and does not have to be in the form of a specific document or structure.
  • We must deal with individual requests and release information unless we can justify withholding information because an exemption in the Act applies.

Rights under the Act

Under the Data Protection Act 1998, individuals already have the right to access information about themselves, held on computer, and in some paper files. Such requests for information are known as a 'subject access request’. For the University and other public bodies, the Freedom of Information Act extends these rights to allow access to all the types of information we hold, whether personal or non-personal.

The publication scheme

The Act requires the University, as a public authority, to adopt and maintain a publication scheme. A publication scheme is a guide to the information which the University has committed itself to publishing. The purpose of doing this is to make a significant amount of information available proactively, without the need to respond to specific requests.

Requests for information

Any individual can make a request to the University for information. The person making the request does not have to be the subject of that information. If an individual is the subject of that information then the principles of the Data Protection Act to protect the data subject will take precedence over any Freedom of Information rights.

The Act gives applicants the following rights:

  • To be told whether the information exists – known as a duty to confirm or deny
  • To receive the information, and where possible in the manner requested, for example in paper or electronic format
  • To receive reasons for a decision to withhold information.

Anyone is able make a request for information, although the request must be made in writing, which includes emails and fax etc. The applicant must include a name and address (email address is acceptable) and provide details of the information sought. Such requests must be dealt with within 20 working days. Information about charges made for request is available in our Charging Policy. If a fee is required, the 20 working days will be extended by up to 3 months until the fee is paid.

Exempt information

The Act creates a general right of access to information held by the University but some information may be regarded as exempt information and therefore will not have to be provided in response to an individual request. There are 23 exemptions as follows:

s21. Information accessible to public by other means

s22. Information intended for future publication

s23. Information supplied by, or relating to, bodies dealing with security matters

s24. National security

s26. Defense

s27. International relations

s28. Relations within the United Kingdom

s29. The economy

s30. Investigations and proceedings conducted by public authorities

s31. Law enforcement

s32. Court records, etc

s33. Audit functions

s34. Parliamentary privilege

s35. Formulation of Government policy etc.

s36. Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs (exempt information held by the House of Commons or Lords)

s37. Communications with Her Majesty, etc. and honours

s38. Health and safety

s39. Environmental information

s40. Personal information

s41. Information provided in confidence

s42. Legal professional privilege

s43. Commercial interests 

s44. Prohibitions on disclosure

The full text of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 can be found at:

http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2000/ukpga_20000036_en_1