The ICO exists to empower you through information.

Latest updates

04 March 2024 - we have updated our guidance

How does it work?

You have the right to request recorded information held by public authorities. The most obvious kind of recorded information is electronic or paper copies of formal documents, like policies or minutes of meetings. But you can also request information held in other kinds of records like emails, photographs or audio recordings.

There are laws that give you this right of access, which are: 

  • the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA);
  • Environmental Information Regulations (EIR); and
  • INSPIRE Regulations. 

This guidance focuses on the FOIA and EIR. You can find more information on INSPIRE in our guide to the INSPIRE Regulations

If you ask for information, public authorities must provide it, unless there’s a good reason not to. 

We use the phrase “information request” to cover the requests you can make using FOIA or EIR. 

If you want to request a copy of your own personal information from a public authority, make a subject access request.

Who can you ask?

You can request information from any public authority in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and UK-wide public authorities based in Scotland. Scotland has its own legislation which covers Scottish public authorities and its own commissioner

Examples of public authorities include:

  • government departments, devolved administrations and other public bodies and committees;
  • local councils;
  • schools, colleges and universities;
  • public health services – including hospitals, GPs, dentists, pharmacists and opticians;
  • publicly-owned companies;
  • publicly-funded museums, galleries and theatres; and
  • the police and fire services.

You can make an environmental information request to some private or public companies that have public responsibilities – such as water companies.

If you are unsure if you can make a request to an organisation, you can contact us via our helpline on 0303 123 1113 or our live chat.

Top tips

To make information requests as efficiently and effectively as possible, we suggest you take this approach:

  1. Search first. Public authorities publish a great deal of information. You may find what you’re looking for by searching online or looking at the website’s sitemap. If the information is already in the public domain, it may be quicker to find it than ask for it. 
  2. Keep it clear. Make your request as simple and straightforward as possible. Use simple language. Numbered lists or bullet-points might help you to structure your request. In general, try to make it as easy as possible for the public authority to understand what you want to receive.
  3. Be nice. Even if you’re dissatisfied with the organisation, try to put that to one side and focus on the information you want to receive. If possible, keep your information request separate from any ongoing email threads or complaints about wider issues.
  4. Read it twice. Before you send a request, take another look at it to make sure it’s clear and easy to follow. If you’re unsure, you could seek a second opinion from someone you know. They might spot something confusing that you can fix before you send the request. If the public authority has to ask you to clarify your request, it will take longer for you to receive the information you want.

Protect public money

Gaining access to public information is your right and public bodies must respect that.

However, requests do cost public bodies time and money to respond to. This is public money and we need to make sure it’s spent responsibly. 

It is important that you don’t submit frivolous or trivial requests.

You should not make requests for the same information more than once, unless the information has changed a lot.

You should not make requests as a way of ‘punishing’ a public body if you think they have done something wrong. If you do any of the above, the public body could consider your request vexatious and refuse to action it.