As well as responding to requests for information, you must publish information proactively. The Freedom of Information Act requires every public authority to have a publication scheme, approved by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), and to publish information covered by the scheme.
The scheme must set out your commitment to make certain classes of information routinely available, such as policies and procedures, minutes of meetings, annual reports and financial information.
To help you do this the ICO has developed a model publication scheme. There are two versions; one for most public authorities and one for the few public authorities that are only covered for part of the information they hold.
The information you release in accordance with the publication scheme represents the minimum you must disclose. If a member of the public wants information not listed in the scheme, they can still ask you for it (see What should we do when we receive a request?).
Most public authorities will make their publication scheme available on their website under ‘freedom of information’, ’guide to information’ or ‘publication scheme’. If you are asked for any of this information, you should be able to make it available quickly and easily, so you should make your staff aware of the information available through your publication scheme.
If you are involved in implementing and maintaining the scheme, you will need to read the detail below.
No. Every public authority must have a publication scheme, but the ICO has now created a model publication scheme that all public authorities must use. It is available in two versions; one is designed for those public authorities that are only covered for certain information, and the other is for all other public authorities. Any publication scheme you have that was created before 1 January 2009 is now out of date and you should replace it with the ICO model scheme.
What is the model publication scheme?
The model publication scheme is a short document (say two pages long) setting out your high-level commitment to proactively publish information. It is suitable for all sectors and consists of seven commitments and seven classes of information.
The model publication scheme commits you to publish certain classes of information. It also specifies how you should make the information available, what you can charge, and what you need to tell members of the public about the scheme.
The ICO will inform public authorities if we plan to update the model publication scheme, via our website.
For further information, read:
How should we comply with the model publication scheme?
You should adopt the scheme and you need not tell the ICO you have done so. The model scheme is appropriate for all public authorities so you should not change it. You should also make sure you publish the information it covers.
You should also produce:
a guide to information, specifying what information you publish and how it is available, for example, online or by contacting you; and
a schedule of fees, saying what you charge for information.
You should publicise the fact that information is available to the public under the scheme. You should make sure the model scheme, guide to information, and schedule of fees are all available on your website, public notice board, or in any other way you normally communicate with the public.
What kind of information should we publish and include in our guide to information?
The model publication scheme describes the seven types (classes) of information you should publish.
The seven classes of information are broad and include headings like ‘Who we are and what we do’ and ‘The services we offer’. The classes cover all the more formal types of information you hold, such as information about the structure of your organisation, minutes of meetings, contracts, reports, plans and policies. You should include all information that falls in the seven classes, unless there is a good reason not to. This is in line with one of the principles of the Act – that public information should be made available unless there is good reason to withhold it, and the Act allows it.
You are not required to proactively publish drafts, notes, older versions of documents that have been superseded, emails or other correspondence. Actions and decisions in relation to specific individuals are also unlikely to be covered. Members of the public wanting access to information that is not included in your guide to information can still make a freedom of information request.
To help you decide what you should include in your guide to information, the ICO has produced definition documents for the various sectors. These set out the types of information the ICO would normally expect particular types of public authority to publish. For some smaller public authorities, such as health practitioners, parish councils and primary schools, the ICO has produced template guides to information that just need to be filled in.
Remember that you also need to maintain your publication scheme and continue to publish the information it lists. This means you must put in place a process to:
review what information you are publishing;
ensure you make newly created information that falls within the scope of the scheme available promptly; and
replace or update information that has been superseded.
You should make yourself aware of any records management policies that support proactive publication. For example, you may need to notify the relevant person or department when you update, replace or alter any of the information covered by the publication scheme. You should make sure your staff receive the right training and guidance about this.
The Act contains specific requirements in relation to datasets and publication schemes. You must make available any dataset that has been requested, and any updated version you hold under your publication scheme, unless you are satisfied that it is not appropriate to do so. You must make the dataset available in a re-usable form. If the dataset is covered by the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations (RPSI), then you should license it for re-use under RPSI. If it is not covered, for example because you are not a public sector body under RPSI, then you should deal with licensing issues under the dataset provisions in the Act.
For further information, read our more detailed guidance:
What if we don’t have all the information that the model publication scheme covers?
The Act only covers information you hold. It does not require you to create new information or to record information you do not need for your own business purposes.
In your guide to information, list only the information you hold and must publish.
Can we refuse to publish information?
You should list any information you hold that falls within the classes in your guide to information unless:
it is in draft form;
you have archived it or it is difficult to access;
it is exempt from disclosure under the Act; or
part of the document is exempt from disclosure and it would not be practical to publish the information in a redacted (edited) form. The ICO would normally expect you to publish redacted minutes of meetings, but we accept it is unreasonable to expect you to routinely produce edited versions of other documents.
Where you have decided not to publish information, it is good practice to record your reasons for this decision, in case you are questioned about this later.
Why must we publish information, rather than simply responding to requests?
The Act is designed to increase transparency. Members of the public should be able to routinely access information that is in the public interest and is safe to disclose. Also, without the publication scheme, members of the public may not know what information you have available.
The publication scheme covers information you have already decided you can give out. People should be able to access this information directly on the web, or receive it promptly and automatically whenever they ask.
Does all the information have to be on a website?
No, but if you have a website this is the easiest way for most people to access the information and will reduce your workload. The scheme recommends that information should be on a website wherever possible. However, some information may not suitable for uploading to a website, such as information that is held only in hard copy or very large files. The ICO appreciates that some small public authorities will not have the technical resources to support complex or regularly updated websites.
Where information is not available online, you must still list the information in your guide to information and give contact details so people can make a request to see it. You should provide this promptly on request. You should also make information available in this way for people who lack access to the internet.
Some information may be available to view in person only, but this should be reserved for those exceptional circumstances where it is the only practicable option. For example, a large or fragile historical map may be difficult to copy. You should provide contact details and promptly arrange an appointment for the requester to view the information they have asked for.
The ICO recommends that you give the contact details of post holders who are responsible for specific types or pieces of information because they can easily access that information in their normal work and answer any questions about it. Making defined post holders responsible for specific pieces of information helps keep the information you publish up to date.
How much can we charge for information?
The Act does not specify how much you can charge for information published in accordance with a publication scheme (this is different from the rule for information released in response to a request – see What should we do when we receive a request?). However, you must publish a list of charges indicating when you will charge and how much. You will not be able to charge if you have not indicated this in advance.
The ICO model publication scheme requires any fee to be justified, transparent and kept to a minimum. As a general rule, you can only make the following charges:
for communicating the information, such as photocopying and postage. We do not consider it reasonable to charge for providing information online;
fees permitted by other legislation; and
for information produced commercially, for example, a book, map or similar publication that you intend to sell and would not otherwise have produced.
If you make a dataset available for re-use under your publication scheme, and it is covered by RPSI, then you may charge for permitting re-use according to RPSI. If it is not covered, for example because you are not a public sector body under RPSI, then you should deal with charging for re-use according to the dataset provisions in the Act. If datasets are made available for re-use under the Open Government Licence there is no re-use fee.
For further information, read our detailed guidance: