Freedom of Information Requests


This project is dedicated to discussing and planning community-driven stories based on Freedom of Information (FOI) requests in the United Kingdom and in the U.S., where they’re known as Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

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Guidelines

  • We will be discussing best practices to send out FOIs and FOIAs.
  • If and when we get a reply, we may describe the nature of our query and the response given.
  • We can create a forward-thinking calendar, edited by the community, to help guide our efforts.
  • We can also start thinking about the similarities and differences of sending out FOIs and FOIAs. Not in the UK or the U.S.? What are like freedom of information laws in your country like?

FOIs: a guide

The UK’s Freedom of Information Act of 2000 grants the public a “right to access” information held by public authorities. Government bodies, publicly-funded institutions like universities and museums, publicly-owned companies, councils and more fall within the scope of the law. Political parties, security services like GCHQ and MI5, individual MPs and the Queen and her heir are not (FOI Directory).

How to make a request

  • It has to be in writing and be legible.
    • It helps to state at the beginning of your request that you are filing it under the Freedom of Informations Act of 2000.
  • Requests can be made via:
  • Requests usually take up to 20 working days to process, although they can take longer.
  • The best bit? It’s free (although you might get charged if you’re asking for paper copies).

What needs to go into the request

Three elements are key for your FOI to be valid:

  • Your real name
  • An address where you can be contacted (an email address counts)
  • A description of the information

Try to be as specific as possible when making your request: set out clearly what sort of information you’re looking for, for what period(s), and how you would like to receive the information – paper or electronically. For the latter, it helps to specify the format: PDF, word, etc.

Top tips

  • Request specific documents, rather than making vague enquiries.
  • Take a look at your calendar to see what events are coming up. For example, is a publicly-funded company sacking people but you can’t find how much their CEO makes? Just send an FOI.

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Suggested resources

  • WhatDoTheyKnow: “A site to help anyone submit a Freedom of Information request. WhatDoTheyKnow also publishes and archives requests and responses, building a massive archive of information.”
  • FOI Directory: “FOI Directory is intended to be a tool for researchers, academics, journalists, and anyone involved or wanting to know more about the Freedom of Information Act in the United Kingdom and beyond.”

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