What’s next for the Freedom of Information Act?

The Independent Commission on Freedom of Information released their long awaited Call for Evidence at the end of last week. NCVO will be responding and is keen to find out how changes to the system will affect your organisation.

The commission

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 allows the public to access information held by public authorities. The authorities are required to routinely publish material and answer requests for information. Freedom of Information (FOI) requests are incredibly valuable to the sector, it gives us access to data that lets us hold government to account for how their actions affect our beneficiaries.

The Independent Commission on Freedom of Information has been set up to examine whether or not the Act provides a ‘safe space’ for frank discussions and policy development, and whether or not the Act places too bigger burden on public authorities.

Although exemptions already exist on certain types of information, it’s likely the commission will want to tighten these. In addition to this, the commission is examining how much FOI requests cost public bodies and the option of lowering the limits at which they are chargeable, or even introducing a fee when a request is made.

NCVO will be answering the call for evidence but need you to help us inform our response.

Safe space

The commission acknowledges that it’s important for the public to understand how decisions that affect them have been reached, but points out that it’s difficult to have frank internal discussions in the knowledge they will become public.

Whilst exemptions are currently in place on these materials, there are worries that the potential for this information to be released could have a chilling effect on the policy making process – with controversial issues being avoided or important discussion taking place by less formal means.

Specifically, they will be looking at the exemptions currently in place for material on internal deliberations, material from the Cabinet and risk assessments.

We’d like to hear from you if any of the following apply:

  • you’ve sent an FOI request relating to internal policy deliberation, material from the Cabinet or risk assessments and
  • you faced any difficulties getting this information or
  • you successfully received it – if so, how useful was it?


The appeals process for FOI requests has a number of stages:

  • If a requestor is unhappy with a public body’s decision, they can issue a complaint and a different group of officials will reconsider their request.
  • Following this they can appeal to the Information Commission, who will carry out a review – most appeals are settled at this point.
  • If the requestor or public body is unhappy with the Information Commission’s decision they can appeal to a first-tier tribunal and following that an upper tribunal.

The commission wants to understand how the existing system of appeals is working and whether it is appropriate, it’s possible they will look into simplifying or removing some of the steps involved.

We’d like to hear from you if:

  • you’ve ever appealed over an FOI request – if so, how did you find the process?
  • you have any views on the appeals system as a whole.

Burdens and costs

Whether or not that Act places too bigger burden on the public bodies responding to requests is one of the most contentious aspects of the call for evidence.

Although the evidence is a little patchy, it appears that the number of FOI requests made and the cost of responding to them is increasing year on year. The commission is examining the burden imposed on public authorities versus the public’s right to access information.

Currently if an FOI request will cost a public body over £450 to answer (or £600 for central government) then the body can refuse the request or offer that the individual making the request cover the cost.

It is possible the commission will look at lowering these limits or charge for more complicated requests. In the call for evidence, the commission highlights other countries where the public are required to pay for submitting any requests and could well be considering this an option.

We’d like to hear from you if:

  • you have views on the burden FOI requests place on public bodies versus the public’s right to access this information
  • you’ve submitted FOI requests, especially if they’ve proved useful and you wouldn’t have been able to cover the cost if you’d been charged.

Get in touch

You can let us know how any of these issues might affect you by leaving a comment below or emailing karina.russell@ncvo.org.uk by Friday 6 November. We are happy to keep your views confidential.


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Karina Russell was NCVO’s policy officer. She covered issues around public services, improving commissioning and procurement practice and advancing the social value agenda.

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