In brief…

If someone thinks you have not dealt with their request for information properly, they should start by complaining to you. The Environmental Information Regulations require you to have an internal review or complaints procedure for requests – for more detail, see When can we refuse a request for environmental information? You should inform the requester of the outcome of the review within 40 working days of receiving their complaint. If after going through your complaints procedure the requester is still dissatisfied, or if you fail to review your original decision, then the requester can complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

When you refuse a request, you must always let people know about their right to complain to the ICO.

We have a general duty to investigate complaints from members of the public who believe that a public authority has failed to respond correctly to their request for information. If someone makes a complaint against you, our complaints handling process gives you an opportunity to reconsider your actions and put right any mistakes without us taking any formal action.

If the complaint is not resolved informally, we will issue a decision notice. If we find that you have breached the Regulations, the decision notice will say what you need to do to put things right.

We also have powers to enforce compliance if you have failed to proactively provide environmental information in line with the Regulations, whether or not we have received a complaint about this.

When might the ICO receive a complaint about how we have handled a request?

If someone thinks you have not dealt with their request for information properly, they should start by complaining to you. You must have an internal complaints procedure, generally known as an internal review, as explained in When can we refuse a request for environmental information? The internal review gives you an opportunity to reconsider the request. If the requester remains dissatisfied with the outcome of your internal review, or if you fail to review your original decision, then the requester can complain to the ICO.

Complaints about a request made under the Regulations must be submitted to us within three months of you issuing the outcome of your internal review. Regulation 18 gives the Information Commissioner the power to enforce the Regulations; it effectively imports the enforcement provisions of Part 4 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (‘the Act’) into the Regulations.

We focus on whether you have complied with the Regulations. We don’t punish public authorities, or compensate requesters. We cannot investigate other matters that may lie behind the request, or make judgements about a public authority’s actions outside its obligations under the Regulations.

Regulation 19 mirrors section 77 of the Act, so the same criminal offences are included in the Regulations.

Sample questions we ask public authorities

We have published the standardised sample copy that our case officers use when writing to public authorities, including introductory information about the exceptions and key questions we may need to ask. The questions are not exhaustive and case officers tailor their correspondence in each case.

We have made this internal ICO resource available to help with transparency around freedom of information requests and how we approach casework. It may help public authorities to consider these questions, when deciding if relevant exceptions apply.

Further information

To find out how we handle complaints, read the section What happens when someone complains to the ICO? in the Guide to Freedom of Information. The guide refers to the Freedom of Information Act only, but we exercise the same powers when we receive a complaint about a request for environmental information.