This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.

What are Freedom of Information requests?

Freedom of Information (FOI) requests are requests for information made to ‘public authorities’ in the UK.

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 provides public access to information held by English, Welsh, and Northern Irish public authorities.

The Act is overseen and enforced by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

This applies to UK-wide public authorities based in Scotland. Scotland also has its own freedom of information legislation which applies to public bodies delivering devolved services – the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002Further information is available from the Scottish Information Commissioner’s website – the body responsible for FOI in ​Scotland.

What are ‘public authorities’?

Public authorities are public bodies that exercise public functions, such as providing a service, regulating an industry or holding records. These include: ​​

  • Government departments and legislative bodies (such as Parliament),
  • Government agencies
  • The armed forces
  • Local government
  • The National Health Service
  • Schools, further education colleges and universities (but not private schools)
  • Police forces

Who can make a request?

Everyone has the right to ask for information from UK public authorities.

This includes any UK citizen, non-UK citizen, people living abroad, journalists, political parties, lobby groups and commercial organisations.

What information can be requested

The type of information that can be requested includes printed documents, computer files, letters, emails, photographs, and sound or video recordings.

This information does not have to be an “official document” or produced by the public authority. Any information held by the public authority can be requested, including draft documents and correspondence received by the authority. Recordings of telephone conversations and CCTV recordings can be also requested.

How to make an FOI request

FOI requests must be made in writing, including requests made by email.

It is not necessary to use a special form, or even to make reference to the 2000 Act – any written request for information held by a public body could be categorised as an FOI request.

All requests must include the requester’s name and contact details (this can be an email address).

Although there is no set format for FOI requests, the IOC suggests using the following template:


Dear Sir/Madam

I would like to request the following information:

[When requesting information, be specific and avoid asking general questions. Include details such as dates and names if you can.]

I would like you to provide this information in the following format:

[optional specify whether you have a preferred format to receive the information]

Please do not hesitate to contact me on [your phone number or email] should any aspect of my request require clarification.

Yours faithfully


Use the contact details provided on the official website of the public authority. Gov.UK webpages normally include a contact section, for example, Contact DfT on the Department for Transport website.

Some Government departments also include a FOI section on their website, for example, the Make an FOI request on the Department for Transport’s website, which includes an FOI contact form. Using this form can make it easier to provide the necessary information to a public authority, but it is not essential to use this type of form to make an FOI request.

Are there any exemptions to FOI?

Yes. There are exemptions which mean that a public authority can refuse a request for information.

The IOC website provides detail on the reasons why a request might be refused. Reasons for refusal can include that:

  • It would cost too much to or take too much time to deal with a request
  • The information requested includes court records
  • The information requested contains personal information
  • The information requested contains information provided in confidence

There are other exemptions that are subject to a “public interest test”. This means that authorities must judge whether to release information based on what is in the best interests of society. The public interest test applies to the disclosure of information that:

  • Is intended for future publication
  • Relates to national security or international relations
  • Is concerned with law enforcement

What to do if an FOI outcome is not satisfactory

Constituents can complain when the following things happen:

  • If the public authority has refused or failed to release some or all of the information requested
  • If they take too long to respond –an authority must comply with a request within 20 days of receipt of the application. Exemptions to this include where a request needs to be clarified or a charge notice is issued.

Further information on when and how to make a complaint is on the ICO website. A complaint can be made directly to the complainant via the ICO website or the helpline: 0303 123 1113

Related posts