Making a Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request is simple.
The law was created so that anyone can send an FOI request without a knowledge of the law and have the potential to be provided with information in the easiest possible way. The more people that make FOI requests, the more successful the Act has been.
Nevertheless there are still a few steps that need to be followed for your FOI request to be valid. Here are the main things that need to be included when you’re making your request for information.
How much is it to make an FOI request?
Absolutely nothing! In the UK the process of making a FOI request doesn’t cost the requester anything at all. The law has been designed this way to make it as accessible as possible.
This said, an FOI request may be liable to a charge if paper copies of the information are requested.
One of the FOI Act’s exemptions covers the cost of retrieving and producing the information. Public authorities covered by the Act can charge of a request if answering it would exceed the cost limits set out in the law. However, it is very rare that authorities provide a requester with this option. The exemption is mostly just used for rejecting requests that encompass a lot of information – it’s not possible for the requester to volunteer to pay for a response to be provided.
Do I have to live in the UK to make an FOI request?
The UK’s Freedom of Information laws do not require the requester to live in, or be a citizen of, the UK. Anyone living anywhere in the world can make a FOI request to public authorities in the UK. This isn’t the same in some other countries.
How do I make the FOI request?
All requests under the Act have to be made in writing and be legible. You can’t phone a public authority to make an FOI request.
The request itself doesn’t have to say it is a request under the Freedom of Information Act, but this may help authorities to be confident that it is.
Requests can be made by:
- Email (thousands of addresses can be found in our directory)
- Social Media
What do I include in my FOI request?
There are three crucial things that need to be included in an FOI request for it to be valid. If any one of these three things is missing from your request then the public authority is able to refuse it.
- Your real name
- An address where you can be contacted (an email address counts)
- A description of the information being requested
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Other than this there are no rules for how to write a FOI request, but it’s wise to be polite and clearly set out the information, which is being asked for, as this will make it easier for the authority to find.
How do I receive the information?
The requester has the right to decide how they will receive the information they are asking for.
It can be received in electronic format, this can include the programme format e.g. Excel, paper copies, braille, audio format, or large print depending on the requester’s needs.
In some cases the information may only be viewable by attending the public authority and viewing it in person – this may be the case for documents which can not be copied.
More in this guide:
The following pages give more information about the FOI Act and the rights of a requester.
What is the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000?
What is the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) response time?
Who is covered by the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act – are private companies?
How to complain about an FOI request – including to the ICO
The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act exemptions explained
Updated May 18, 2020: This article was originally published on January 6, 2013 and has since been updated with new information