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Latest updates - last updated 2 February 2023

2 February 2023 - this guidance was published.

Public authorities frequently need to consult internally on how to handle requests under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR). Occasionally, this internal consultation is outside your usual case processes. This may, for example, be due to the complexity of the request or the sensitivity of the information, that may require a higher level of sign-off.

FOIA requires you to respond to requests within 20 working days, unless specific circumstances apply as set out in the Code of practice on handling requests. Seeking multiple layers of sign-off is not a reasonable excuse for failing to comply with the statutory timescales. Therefore, you should put measures in place to ensure that you manage any of these processes within the statutory timeframe.

This guide contains key steps and actions you could take to minimise any sign-off delays. This will help you make all decisions on FOI requests during this internal consultation process in a transparent, accountable and compliant way.

Any decision you make to refuse a FOI request, or to release the information requested, must be in line with the law. We may require you to explain what measures you have taken to comply with your statutory duties. This guide is designed to support you in doing that, although you may have designed your own processes that would also support you to do this.

Key questions

These are the minimum set of questions you could consider. They are designed for anyone involved in the process of administering and taking decisions on FOI requests as part of the internal consultation process.

Do we need to clear the FOI response with people or teams outside the usual case processes?

(For example, with senior staff or officials, Ministers, councillors with relevant responsibilities, Special Advisers (SpAds), executive officers, or communications teams.)

You should have an established criteria for internal consultation, including sign-off on FOI requests, outside the usual case processes.

Is the FOI request being handled in line with our internal consultation procedures?

You should formalise internal consultation procedures and clarify roles and responsibilities. This ensures that you appropriately record reasons for all your decisions. These procedures should be clear, accessible and you should review them regularly.

Have we given a timescale for considering the FOI response?

You should formalise internal consultation timescales and set targets for response times at each stage of the process, in line with statutory timescales.

Can we monitor the progress of the FOI request to ensure timescales are met?

FOI tracking systems should enable you to monitor internal consultation timescales, and support you in monitoring performance. Monitoring should take place at both senior and directorate levels.

Have we recorded all of our actions and decisions on the FOI request?

Your case files should contain a full record of documentation on the internal consultation process, including any actions and decisions for each request.

Do we know what is expected of us as part of the process of responding to the FOI request?

It may be helpful to share the questions above with key people and teams, whenever a FOI request, including the response, is handled outside usual case processes.

Have we identified any learning points from the handling of the FOI request?

Information Access Teams should review how any FOI request is handled under the internal consultation process. Your internal consultation procedures should ensure that you identify poor performance, including lack of transparency in all decision making, and can prevent recurrences.

How to use this guide

You should not see this guide as an exhaustive list of what you should do in all circumstances. It sets out different approaches that will support you to minimise compliance delays, and increase transparency and accountability in your FOI decision-making. Where you are considering statutory consultation matters outlined in FOIA, you should look at both the Code of practice on handling requests and our guidance on the relevant statutory provisions, all of which are available on our website.

You should make internal consultation criteria, together with the procedures you follow, available under your publication scheme, in the interests of transparency.

You could also use the table below as a template to record the internal consultation process.

Case reference Add your answer
Brief description of the information requested Add your answer
List reason(s) for internal consultation Add your answer
Describe advice, comment or feedback provided Add your answer
Name and job title of the person(s) who provided advice / comment / feedback Add your answer
Date of internal consultation Add your answer
Date completed (ie final advice / comment / feedback) Add your answer