Freedom of Information Act - Access information from a public body
Access information from a public body - Freedom of Information Act
The public sector is facing unprecedented challenges relating to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic at the current time. Understandably, our resources have been diverted to support our front-line colleagues who are working tremendously hard to provide care for our patients, and to those in need of our services.
We strive to be transparent and to work with an open culture. But at this time, whilst care of our patients and the safety of our staff takes precedent, it is likely that responses to some requests for information will be delayed. We apologise for this position in advance, and will endeavour to provide you with as much information as we can as soon as we are able.
If you wish to obtain information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 or Environmental Information Regulations 2004, you can do this in the following ways:
- Email us firstname.lastname@example.org;
- Write to us: Information Governance Department, Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, King's Mill Hospital, Mansfield Road, Sutton in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, NG17 4JL.
Information that is readily available to you under our Publication Scheme
- Who we are and what we do
- What we spend and how we spend
- What are our priorities and how are we doing
- How we make decisions
- Our policies and procedures
- List and registers
- The services we offer
Guide to information
What can I request?
The Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Information Regulations gives you rights to access official information.
Under the Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Information Regulations you have a right to request any recorded information held by a public authority, such as a government department, local council or state school. Environmental information requests can also be made to certain non-public bodies carrying out a public function.
You can ask for any information you think we may hold. The right only covers recorded information which includes information held on computers, in emails and in printed or handwritten documents as well as images, video and audio recordings. You should identify the information you want as clearly as possible.
Your request can be in the form of a question, rather than a request for specific documents, but the authority does not have to answer your question if this would mean creating new information or giving an opinion or judgment that is not already recorded. Some information may not be given to you because it is exempt, for example because it would unfairly reveal personal details about somebody else.
You don’t have to know whether the information you want is covered by the Environmental Information Regulations or the Freedom of Information Act. When you make a request, we decide which law we need to follow.
What should I do before I make a request?
You can ask for any information you choose, at any time, but you may not always succeed in getting it. Before you make a request, it may help to consider the following questions:
- Is the information you want already available, for example, is it on our website?
We must make certain information routinely available. You can find out what information is available by checking our ‘guide to information’;
- Is the information you want your own personal data?
If your request is for information about yourself, such as your employment records, you should make a subject access request under the Data Protection Act;
- Are we likely to have the information?
It may save you time if you check with us whether it is likely we have the information you want. For example, you may not be sure whether the information you want is held by your General Practice or the county council. We must give reasonable advice and assistance to anyone asking for information, so feel free to ask for help in making your request;
- Is the information you want suitable for general publication?
The aim of the Freedom of Information Act is to make information available to the general public. You can only obtain information that would be given to anybody who asked for it, or would be suitable for the general public to see;
- Some information, such as records about a dead relative, or documents you need for legal purposes, may not always be available under the Act. However, you may have a right to see the information you want under other legislation.
What are the legal requirements for a request?
For your request to be dealt with according to the Freedom of Information Act, you must:
- contact us directly;
- make the request in writing, for example in a letter or an email. You can make a verbal or written request for environmental information;
- give your real name; and
- give an address to which we can reply. This can be a postal or email address.
You do not have to:
- mention the Freedom of Information Act or Environmental Information Regulations, although it may help to do so;
- know whether the information is covered by the Freedom of Information Act or the Environmental Information Regulations; or
- say why you want the information.
It is sensible to write the date on any letters or emails you send and keep a copy, so you have a reliable record of your request. If you make a verbal request for environmental information, we recommend that you note who you spoke to, the date, and what information you requested, and you may wish to follow up with a letter or email confirming your request. A written record of a verbal request would be beneficial if you later need to make a complaint.
If you find it impossible or unreasonably difficult to make a request in writing, we may have to make a reasonable adjustment for you under the Equality Act 2010 (or Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland). This could mean, for example, that we have to consider treating a verbal request for information as if it was a valid freedom of information request.
How should I word my request to get the best result?
Most people will exercise their rights responsibly but we also recognise that some individuals and organisations submit requests which may, whether by accident or design, cause a public authority an unjustified or disproportionate level of disruption or irritation. Some requests can cause distress to members of staff.
The Freedom of Information Act has a built in safeguard to protect public authorities from having to deal with such requests (called vexatious requests under Section 14). In the case of the Environmental Information Regulations, there is an equivalent provision for requests which are manifestly unreasonable [Regulation 12(4)(b)].
All requests place some degree of demand on our resources in terms of costs and staff time, and we expect to absorb a certain level of disruption to meet our underlying commitment to transparency and openness under the Freedom of Information Act and Environmental Information Regulations. We also accept requests can be challenging in their language but using threatening or abusive language increases the risk that your request will be refused.
It can be difficult for requester's to understand how information is labelled and organised by public authorities - the Act contains a provision that ensures that public authorities must consider whether they should provide you with advice and assistance, within reasonable limits.
Nonetheless, the amount of time and resources that we expend in responding to a request should not be out of all proportion to that request’s value and purpose.
You need to consider the dos and don’ts below – think about your request objectively - does it trigger any don’ts? If so you may want to rethink your information request otherwise it may be refused as vexatious.
If your request does lack any serious or clear purpose or if it is not focused on acquiring information, then the Freedom of Information Act and Environmental Information Regulations are probably not an appropriate means through which to pursue your concern. You might do better to explore whether there are other more suitable channels through which to take up the issue with us.
You should also bear in mind that the Freedom of Information Act includes a safeguard against requests which exceed the cost limits for compliance (Section 12). The equivalent provision in the Environmental Information Regulations is once again [Regulation 12(4)(b)] - manifestly unreasonable requests.
Therefore, if you are planning to ask for a large volume of information, or make a very general request, you should first consider whether you could narrow or refocus the scope of the request, as this may help you get what you really want and reduce any unnecessary burden or costs on us. Alternatively, you could ask us for advice and assistance to help you reduce the scope of your request and cut down the cost of compliance – we have a duty to consider what advice and assistance we can provide.
Although you don’t have to say why you want the information, if you are happy to do so it might avoid a lot of wasted time and be more likely to get you what you want.
Can we charge for a request?
Yes, we can charge you for the costs of sending the information, such as photocopying and postage. These are known as 'disbursements'.
Information request dos and dont's
Use straightforward, polite language; avoid basing your request or question on assumptions or opinions, or mixing requests with complaints or comments.
Bury your request in amongst lengthy correspondence on other matters or underlying complaints
Specify whether you have any preferences as to how you would like to receive the information, for example if you would prefer a paper copy or to receive an email.
Use requests as a way of ‘scoring points’ against an authority
Give us ample opportunity to address any previous requests you have made before submitting new ones.
Send ‘catch-all’ requests for information (such as ‘please provide me with everything you hold about ‘x’) when you aren’t sure what specific documents to ask for. If in doubt, try searching on our website or enquiring whether any indexes and file lists are available. Alternatively, ask us for some advice and assistance in framing your request.
Stay focused on the line of enquiry you are pursuing. Don’t let your attention start to drift onto issues of minor relevance.
Submit frivolous or trivial requests; remember that processing any information request involves some cost to the public purse.
Think about whether making a request is the best way of achieving what you want. If you have an underlying complaint then it may be better to just take your complaint to the relevant ombudsman and let them investigate.
Disrupt us by the sheer weight of requests or the volume of information requested. Whether you are acting alone or in concert with others, this is a clear misuse of the Act and an abuse of your ‘right to know’.
Aim to be flexible if the authority advises that it can’t meet the full request on cost grounds and asks you to narrow it down. Try to work with us to produce a streamlined version of the request which still covers the core information that is most importance to you.
Deliberately ‘fish’ for information by submitting very broad or random requests in the hope it will catch something noteworthy or otherwise useful. Requests should be directed towards obtaining information on a particular issue, rather than relying on pot luck to see if anything of interest is revealed.
Make repeat requests unless circumstances, or the information itself, have changed to the extent that there are justifiable grounds to ask for the information again.
What happens after I make my request?
We must reply to you within 20 working days. We may:
- give you the information you’ve asked for;
- tell you we don’t have the information;
- tell you that another authority holds the information or transfer the request on your behalf;
- under the Freedom of Information Act, say that it has the information and offer to provide it if you pay a fee (but there are rules about what they can charge);
- under the Environmental Information Regulations, make a reasonable charge for providing information in accordance with their published schedule of charges. Note: If the authority allows you to view a public register or other information in person, at a place of their choice, we cannot charge for this;
- refuse to give you the information, and explain why; or,
- under the Freedom of Information Act, say we need more time to consider the public interest in disclosing or withholding the information, and tell you when to expect a response. This should not be later than 40 working days after the date of your request. We can only extend the time limit in certain circumstances, and we must explain why we think the information may be exempt;
- under the Environmental Information Regulations, say we need more time as the information requested is particularly complex and there is a lot of information to provide. In such cases the time limit can be extended by a further 20 working days as long as the authority respond within the initial time limit stating when it believes it will be able to respond in full.
What can I expect if I have rights under the Equality Act 2010 (or Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland)?
Under equality law we have a duty to make sure that our services are accessible to all service users. You can request a response in a particular format that is accessible to you, such as Braille, large print, email or audio format.
If you think we have failed to make a reasonable adjustment, you can make a claim under the Equality Act (or Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland).
Further advice is available from:
- Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS) https://www.equalityadvisoryservice.com/ and
- Citizens Advice https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/.
Will I always get the information I ask for?
Not always. The Freedom of Information Act recognises that there will be valid reasons why some kinds of information may be withheld, such as if its release would prejudice national security or damage commercial interests. For some exemptions we must consider whether the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in releasing it. If we decide that the information cannot be released we must tell you and explain why. We are not obliged to deal with vexatious or repeated requests or in some cases if the cost exceeds an appropriate limit. In addition the Act does not provide the right of access to personal information about you. This is instead available under the Data Protection Act again, subject to certain exemptions, and is known as a subject access request.
Can I complain if we refuse your request or I am dissatisfied with the way it has been dealt with?
Yes. You should first complain to us and ask for an internal review. For freedom of information complaints we recommend that you do this as soon as possible and within two months of receiving our final response. For environmental information complaints you should make your complaint within 40 working days.
The Information Commissioner’s Office recommends we carry out internal reviews within 20 working days. Under Environmental Information Regulations there is a legal requirement that internal reviews must be carried out as soon as possible and within 40 working days. We cannot charge for carrying out an internal review.
If you believe that we have not dealt with your complaint properly, the ICO may be able to help.