The ICO exists to empower you through information.

When should a public authority respond?

Usually they need to respond to your request within 20 working days.

If they ask you to clarify your request, the 20 working days don’t start until you have provided clarification.

They might also need to extend the time taken to respond to an FOI request if they need to consider the balance of the public interest in disclosing or withholding information you have requested. If they’re going to do this, they must write to let you know within the initial 20 working days. Under EIR, they can take up to 40 working days if the request is complex.

Can they charge a fee?

A public authority can charge you for the cost of processing and sending the information, such as photocopying and postage. We call these 'disbursements'.

Keeping your request as specific as possible should help reduce the cost to you. For example, you won’t need to pay for the processing and sending of unnecessary information.

If you’ve requested environmental information, the EIR fees system allows a public authority to charge for working time spent locating information. Any fee should be reasonable – it shouldn’t exceed the costs incurred or act as a deterrent. Public authorities must publish a schedule of any fees they charge for providing environmental information.

Will I receive everything I ask for?

Not always.

You have the right to access information that already exists. Public authorities don’t have to create new information to respond to your request. They are not required to answer questions unless they already hold the answer as recorded information.

And sometimes the public authority just doesn’t hold the information you’ve requested. If that’s the case it should explain that to you.

A public authority can also refuse your request if it is vexatious, repeated or if it would cost too much to comply. This is to protect public money.

If a public authority estimates that complying with a FOI request would cost more than £600 (for central government, Parliament and the armed forces) or £450 (for other public authorities), then it can refuse your request. The cost of complying can include staff time, worked out by hour.

Under EIR, there isn’t a set cost limit beyond which a public authority can refuse a request. It can refuse requests if the cost would be manifestly unreasonable.

Being as specific as possible in your request helps reduce the cost of responding to it. You are then more likely to get the information.

The public authority can refuse an FOI request if it is vexatious (FOI) or manifestly unreasonable (EIR). This means that the request is likely to cause a disproportionate or unjustifiable level of disruption, irritation or distress.

Sometimes people make FOI requests for information which they can access more appropriately under different rules that the ICO doesn’t oversee. Disclosure under FOI or EIR is disclosure to the general public. Information about the deceased, for example, or information needed for a court case may not be suitable for the general public to see. However, you may still have the right to ask for that type of information under other legislation. We can’t give you detailed guidance on that – but a public authority which holds that type of information should advise you how to access it.

Can they withhold information?

There are valid reasons why a public authority may refuse or partially refuse your request for information. Specific parts of the legislation set out these reasons. They’re called ‘exemptions’ under the FOIA and ‘exceptions’ under EIR.

If you received a response to a request where a public authority used an exemption or exception, you may want to read our guidance to understand whether it has done it correctly. This guidance is for organisations, but you should still find it helpful: