The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act

Use FOI to your business advantage

Guide

Public sector organisations may hold information that is relevant to your business or industry. For example, this can be information on their procurement processes, previous bid proposals or existing public contracts, and even information on your competitors. You have the right to request this information under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

You may not get all the information you ask for - eg if it would result in someone's personal details or commercial secrets being revealed. For more information, see FOI exemptions: absolute and qualified.

Before you make a request for information, you should check if the information is:

  • already in the public domain
  • available elsewhere, eg through a public authority's publication scheme or their website

Requesting personal information

You should not make requests for your own personal data under the FOI Act provisions. Instead, you can make a subject access request under the data protection legislation - see dealing with subject access requests.

How to make an FOI request

Any request you make for information under the FOI Act must:

  • be made in writing
  • include your name
  • include a postal or email address to which the public authority can reply

You should also be clear about the type of information you require, and the format you would prefer to receive it in. For more information, see how to access information from a public body.

What happens after you make an FOI request?

Public authorities must respond within 20 working days of receiving your request. They may:

  • give you the information you asked for
  • tell you if they don't have the information
  • tell you if some other authority holds the information
  • transfer the request on your behalf
  • offer to give you the information for a fee (rules apply)
  • refuse to give you the information by applying an exemption and explain why
  • tell you if they need more time to consider your request
  • treat all FOI requests in an 'applicant blind' and 'purpose blind' manner, ie without reference to the identity or the motives of the requestor

If the public authority needs to consider the public interest in disclosing or withholding the information, they may tell you that they need more time to respond. In such cases, you should receive a response within a maximum of 40 days from the date of your request.

Download guidance on time limits for compliance under the FOI Act (PDF, 351K).