The UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.

About this detailed guidance

This guidance discusses circular (or round robin) requests in detail and is written for use by public authorities. Read it if you have questions not answered in the Guide to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and Guide to the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, or if you need a deeper understanding to help you handle circular requests in practice.

In detail

Overview

FOIA and the EIR give rights of public access to information held by public authorities. This is part of a series of guidance notes produced to help you understand your obligations and to promote good practice.

This guidance will assist you in approaching requests that have been circulated to a number of public authorities. Sometimes you may receive information requests which have been made to numerous authorities within your sector. The same request may be made to multiple police forces, for example.

You should handle all written requests for information that provide the name of the requester and an address for a response, including those in circulated questionnaires or round robin requests, in accordance with the requirements of FOIA and the EIR. The requester does not have to provide a name if the request is for environmental information.

What do FOIA and the EIR say?

Section 1 of FOIA states:

(1) Any person making a request for information to a public authority is entitled —

(a) to be informed in writing by the public authority whether it holds information of the description specified in the request, and

(b) if that is the case, to have that information communicated to him.

Section 8 of FOIA states:

(1) In this Act any reference to a “request for information” is a reference to such a request which—

(a) is in writing,

(b) states the name of the applicant and an address for correspondence, and  

(c) describes the information requested.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1)(a), a request is to be treated as made in writing where the text of the request—  

(a) is transmitted by electronic means,

(b) is received in legible form, and  

(c) is capable of being used for subsequent reference.

Regulation 5 (1) of the EIR states:

…  a public authority that holds environmental information shall make it available on request.

What approach should we take to these requests?

Whatever the form in which they arrive and the purpose behind the request, written requests for information trigger a requirement to consider properly the legal obligations in FOIA. If the information requested falls within the definition of environmental information, you need to consider the requirements of the EIR.

You may wish to refer to the guidance on receiving requests under FOIA and receiving requests under the EIR.

If a circular questionnaire or any other round robin request for information identifies the requester (which can include a corporate name) and provides an address for an answer, you must consider your responsibilities under FOIA. If the request is for environmental information, the requester does not have to provide a name and you need to consider the provisions of the EIR.

If you receive a written questionnaire you should: 

  • identify which questions amount to requests for information held on record;
  • be ready to offer advice and assistance that is reasonable in the circumstances; and
  • provide a response in line with the requirements of the legislation.

If any questions invite comment or opinion that is not held on record, you can either:

  • provide the comment or opinion as part of your normal business activities; or
  • reply that the information is not held.

Is the request vexatious or manifestly unreasonable?

If a request is valid, any consideration of whether it is vexatious or manifestly unreasonable should be carried out in accordance with our guidance: Vexatious or Repeated requests and Manifestly unreasonable requests.

What considerations should we give to costs?

If you consider that the request will be time consuming or costly, please refer to the cost limit guidance for FOIA and the EIR.

If you receive multiple requests in a single document you may be able to aggregate costs when estimating them in accordance with section 12 of FOIA.

What else should we consider?

You should be voluntarily making information available to the public as much as possible. If there are themes that you can identify or anticipate in circular requests, preparing the information and publishing it can reduce the number of requests and the time you take to answer them. For further information on publication schemes, see our guidance: Model publication scheme.