Anyone has a right to request information from a public authority. You have two separate duties when responding to these requests:
- to tell the applicant whether you hold any information falling within the scope of their request; and
- to provide that information
You normally have 20 working days to respond to a request.
For a request to be valid under the Freedom of Information Act it must be in writing, but requesters do not have to mention the Act or direct their request to a designated member of staff. It is good practice to provide the contact details of your freedom of information officer or team, if you have one, but you cannot ignore or refuse a request simply because it is addressed to a different member of staff. Any letter or email to a public authority asking for information is a request for recorded information under the Act.
This doesn’t mean you have to treat every enquiry formally as a request under the Act. It will often be most sensible and provide better customer service to deal with it as a normal customer enquiry under your usual customer service procedures, for example, if a member of the public wants to know what date their rubbish will be collected, or whether a school has a space for their child. The provisions of the Act need to come into force only if:
- you cannot provide the requested information straight away; or
- the requester makes it clear they expect a response under the Act.
This request handling flowchart provides an overview of the steps to follow when handling a request for information.