The Freedom of Information Act was designed to give people the right to know. It allows anyone the ability to ask questions of public authorities in the UK and receive answers. (Albeit they may not be the answers requesters want).

It has led to vast quantities of information being made public that would previously not have seen the light of day. During this process, governments, councils and public authorities have generally became more transparent than they previously were before the FOI Act was enacted.

The Act is said to have been designed in favour of disclosure. However, many people who use it will have faced what they feel to be undue barriers to accessing information.

Public authorities can, at times, take advantage of people making FOI requests by not applying the law correctly. They can drag their feet over providing FOI request responses within the law’s 20 working day time limits or not correctly apply exemptions and fail to conduct thorough public interest tests when they are using qualified exemptions.

This can sometimes be due to them not wanting to disclose information and it could be due to undertrained staff members, an abundance of work, or not keeping up-to-date with changes in the legislation. There’s a myriad of reasons for why a request may or may not be answered to the strictest letter of the law – often, it’s likely to be more cock-up than conspiracy.

However, the Act’s text gives a fair amount of rights to the requester. These have been boosted during the Act’s implementation by Decision Notices from the FOI regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office, and case law from Information Tribunals.

Here are some of the most important rights the Act affords to requesters.

Requester’s rights 

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 make an FOI request

The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act exemptions explained

How to complain about an FOI request – including to the ICO

Updated May 18, 2020: This article was originally published on February 8, 2015 and has since been updated with new information

I am a journalist and author. I am a journalist at the UK edition of WIRED magazine. In 2015, my first book Freedom of Information: A Practical Guide for UK Journalists, was published. My second book Reed Hastings: Building Netflix, was published in March 2020. I created FOI Directory in 2012 and have maintained it in my spare time ever since.