There are a number of laws that give you the right to request official information from public bodies. These are:
- the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA);
- Environmental Information Regulations (EIR); and
- INSPIRE Regulations.
This page helps you understand how to make a request, and how public bodies should respond.
How do I request information from a public authority?
Check the public authority's website
Public authorities publish lots of information proactively. If the information you want is already online, this will be quickest way to get it. Check the public authority's publication schemes to see what information is regularly published.
Submit your request in writing
You should submit your request in writing and include the date you sent it. Make sure you describe clearly the information you want to receive.
If you follow our advice on how to write a request for information, you’re more likely to get the information you want.
Send your request directly to the public authority
Some public authorities recommend you send requests to certain email addresses or use forms on their website. You do not have follow these instructions but it is often the quickest way for the organisation to deal with your request.
There are some dedicated websites, like WhatDoTheyKnow, that allow you to submit a request to various public authorities. (Before you submit a request, check the public authority can respond back through the site. Otherwise, it isn’t a valid request and you may not get a response.)
Keep a copy of your request
This is helpful if you need to make a complaint to the public authority, or to us.
Wait 20 working days
Public authorities have 20 working days to respond to your request.
Who can I request information from?
You can request information from any public authority. This includes:
- government departments; devolved administrations, other public bodies and committees;
- local councils;
- schools, colleges and universities;
- the NHS - 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 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.
What information can I request?
Not all information can be made available to the public, but unless there is a good reason for it to be withheld it should be disclosed.
You can request any recorded information held by a public authority. This includes electronic and paper records, photographs and recordings.
The law gives you the right to access information that is already held. There is no obligation for a public authority to create new information in order to respond to your request. They should provide you with advice and assistance if you need help to make, clarify or refine a request.
You are likely to only get information that is suitable for the general public to see.
If you are requesting your personal information from an organisation, you should do this via a subject access request, not a request for official information.
It is unlikely that you would receive records about a deceased relative under an information access request. Similarly, you may not get documents you need for legal purposes this way. This is because it may not be suitable for the general public to see. However, you may still have the right to see the information but under other legislation. The public authority should advise you on the right way to get it.
How do I get support to request information from a public authority?
Public authorities must legally make sure all services are accessible to all users.
If you require additional support or reasonable adjustments to allow you to make a request, the public authority must assist you with this.
For example, you might request the response to your request:
- in Braille;
- in large print;
- via email;
- in audio format; or
- in Welsh.
The Freedom of Information Act states that requests must be made in writing. However public authorities also have duties under equalities legislation. If you find it impossible or unreasonably difficult to make a request in writing, the public authority should provide assistance to enable you to make a request to them. Depending on your circumstances, the public authority may help you to submit a written request or may choose to accept a verbal request.
If the public authority accepts a verbal request from you, they may send you a written record to make sure they have understood your request correctly. After this, once you have confirmed your request, the public authority has 20 working days to respond.
If you think a public authority failed to make a reasonable adjustment, you can make a claim under the Equality Act 2010, section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 or the Welsh Language Act 1993.
Further advice is available from:
The ICO cannot request information from another authority on your behalf.