Tips for successful FOI Requests

To qualify under the Freedom of Information legislation (FOI) your request must be in writing and must specifically be for information on our records i.e. not knowledge, opinion or general advice. You don't always need to make a formal request in order to receive information. If you have a routine enquiry, you should try phoning the relevant service first. This could be much quicker than making a request under FOI, which would usually take up to 20 working days.

Please consider the following:

  • Please make sure your request is clear and specific. You don't have to say why you want the information but this can be helpful to us - it avoids misunderstandings and can help us to focus on finding the information you are most interested in.
  • You may specify which format you would like to receive the information (for example electronically or in hard copy) and the council will do its best to comply. However the council is not obliged to complete questionnaires, visit external web pages, complete spreadsheets or provide information using specific software in order to respond to an FOI request.
  • The council is not obliged to carry out research, make calculations or obtain information from elsewhere for the sole purpose of responding to a request under FOI. This is particularly relevant in relation to requests for statistics, costs and so on. Access rights under FOI relate to information we hold on our records. In some cases we may only be able to provide you with raw data where practicable and you will need to make your own calculations as necessary. However, we will always try to give you advice and assistance as appropriate.
  • There is a limit to the amount of officer time the council is obliged to spend in dealing with your request - currently that limit is 18 hours. When deciding whether or not your request is likely to exceed that limit, the council can take into consideration the following:
    • How long it is likely to take the council to confirm whether it holds the information.
    • The amount of time required to find the information or a document which may contain the information.
    • The work involved in accessing and collating the information or documents which may contain the information.
  • This council will usually consider requests for copies of documents provided the request is specific. But it is important to remember you have a right to information - not documents - so a request asking for "all emails and correspondence relating to [X]" or "all documents the council holds relating to" is usually destined for refusal. Such a request is likely to exceed the 18-hour limit because it is too general.
  • Make it clear what you want to know. Avoid making several requests for similar information. The council can add the total time spent on requests for similar information, made by the same person within 60 days - and if it exceeds or is likely to exceed the 18 hour limit, the council can refuse to comply. So it's best to plan that first request well.
  • Please note that the council can refuse to respond to certain requests if it is not clear what information is requested or if the request itself is 'vexatious'. A vexatious request is a request, which may be the latest in a series of requests, would impose a significant burden and:
    • Clearly does not have any serious purpose or value
    • Is designed to cause disruption or annoyance
    • Has the effect of harassing the public authority; or
    • Can otherwise fairly be characterised as obsessive or manifestly unreasonable

If you are thinking about making a Freedom of Information request you may contact us if need further advice. However if you are ready to make your request you can do so on line, using our online Freedom of Information request form.