Huddle 3

Freedom of Information

The Freedom of Information (FoI) Act 2000 gives members of the public the right to access information held by public bodies.

The Freedom of Information (FoI) Act 2000 gives members of the public the right to access information held by public bodies.

The Act covers any recorded information that is held by a ‘public authority’ in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and by UK-wide public authorities based in Scotland. Information held by Scottish public authorities is covered by Scotland’s own Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

Organisations that fall under its scope are affected in two ways:

  • They are obliged to publish certain information about their activities
  • Members of the public are entitled to request information from them

Organisations covered by FoI

The Act covers a broad range of organisations, most of which are classed as public authorities, that is organisations that spend taxpayer money. These include government departments and their executive agencies, councils and local authorities, health authorities, the police, schools and academies, museums and galleries.

Private companies are not covered by the legislation, with the exception of cases where a private company is wholly owned by a public authority. As such, an FoI request cannot be made to a private company. Under the DPA 2018, a person can request information held about themselves via a Subject Access Request. All organisations that process personal data are required to respond to SARs. Publicly owned companies are classed as public authorities under the FoI Act.

While the majority of sports bodies will not be subject to FoI legislation, it is possible that a range of organisations who are engaged in the sports sector – local authorities and schools, for example – are covered by the Act.

Arm’s-length bodies are listed in Schedule 1 of the Act. This includes the sports councils. Information relating to Sport England and UK Sport’s FoI processes can be found on their websites.

Principles of FoI

The primary principle of the FoI Act is people have a right to know about the activities of public authorities unless there is a good reason to deny them this.

  • Everybody has a right to access official information
  • An applicant does not need to provide a reason for wanting the information
  • All requests for information must be treated equally (with exceptions for certain considerations such as vexatious requests and where personal data is concerned)
  • The information disclosed should be that which would be disclosed to any person requesting it

Information covered by FoI

The legislation covers all recorded information held by an organisation that is subject to it. This covers documents, emails, audio-visual content such as recordings, footage and photographs, and information received by the organisation as well as that created by it.

The Information Commissioner has guidance on what is covered by the FoI Act and the information held by a public authority for the purposes of the Act.

What organisations should do

If your organisation is subject to FoI requests, you should ensure that the public is aware that it can submit them and outline what information is available. You should:

  • Publicise your commitment to publication and the details of what is available
  • Publicise the fact that people can make freedom of information requests to you
  • Provide contact details – such as a named person responsible, a telephone number and email address
  • Provide details about the process itself, what it involves and the likely time taken to respond to requests
  • Provide training for staff likely to receive FoI requests and inform other staff/volunteers of the process in place.

Appropriate and clear notices should be placed where people are likely to access your services. This will usually include websites and written communications.

You must also make clear to your staff, volunteers, contractors, members, participants and others you have contact with how the FoI Act may affect them. They should be notified that, as a public body, you cannot guarantee complete confidentiality of information and that you must consider for disclosure any appropriate information you hold if it is requested.

It is worthwhile to draw up and keep under regular review policies covering different categories of information. Requests received will be considered individually, but a clear policy will provide a framework for handling requests.

The ICO also publishes detailed guidance on handling requests, records management and advice and assistance.

The Government has also produced a Freedom of Information Code of Practice.