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Public authorities and Freedom Of Information

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Understanding the Freedom of Information Act: Obligations and Guidelines


The Freedom of Information Act mandates every public authority to develop a publication scheme approved by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and to disclose information covered by the scheme. This scheme outlines the authority's commitments to routinely provide specific categories of information, including policies, minutes of meetings, annual reports, and financial data.

Publication Scheme

The publication scheme represents the minimum amount of information that must be disclosed by public authorities. If a member of the public requests information not listed in the scheme, they have the right to ask for it. Most public authorities make their publication scheme available on their websites under the freedom of information.

Codes of Practice

There are two codes of practice associated with the Freedom of Information Act:

  • Section 45 Code of Practice: Provides recommendations for public authorities on handling requests, offering advice and assistance, implementing complaints procedures, and managing relationships with other public bodies or third parties.
  • Section 46 Code of Practice: Covers good record management practices, emphasizing the obligation of public authorities to maintain organized records in compliance with the Public Records Act.

While these codes are not legally binding, failure to adhere to them may result in breaches of the act. Public authorities must ensure that their staff, contractors, and customers understand how the act affects them.

Compliance with Other Laws

The Freedom of Information Act may intersect with other legislation, such as the Data Protection Act and laws like the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Welsh Language Act 1999. When handling requests for information containing personal data, the balance between transparency under the Freedom of Information Act and privacy rights under the Data Protection Act must be carefully considered.

Additional Guidance

Detailed guidance on compliance with the Freedom of Information Act and related laws can be found on the Information Commissioner's Office website, providing comprehensive support for public authorities.