The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) provides public access to information held by public authorities – like the Environment Agency, for example. The main concept behind freedom of information legislation is that people have a right to know about the activities of public authorities unless there is good reason for them not to, and everybody has a right to access official information without needing to give a reason.
The Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR) are a complementary, but separate, piece of legislation to the FOIA and are used to access environmental information held by public authorities. Environmental information is any information that would inform the public about matters affecting the environment.
An independent authority, the Information Commissioner’s Office, upholds these information rights in the public interest.
WHAT IS A PUBLIC AUTHORITY?
• All government departments
• Statutory regulators
• Councils, Commissioners, Tsars
• Privatised utilities (including water and sewage companies in England and Wales)
WHY USE FOIs and EIRs
Access to information is crucial. Whether you’re running a campaign or are responsible for a policy area, having access to relevant, up to date information will help improve your effectiveness. Anyone has the right to request environmental information from a public authority and you do not have to give reason as to why you are requesting the information.
A lot of people worry about potential harm to relationships if they request information. However, it’s important to remember it is your legal right to ask for information. NGOs fought long and hard to secure these rights and unless there is a very good reason not to, they should be used.
TOP TIPS TO USING FOIs AND EIRs
• Any form of information can be requested – written, visual, aural or electronic.
• There is no need to justify reasons for requesting information, just clearly state you are requesting information under FOI and/or EIR regulations.
• Some information cannot be supplied. This includes: unfinished documents, legal advice, internal communications, personal data and information that would adversely affect international relations if released. More information can be found at the Information Commissioner’s website. :
• Authorities can charge a fee for information but sometimes do not. Any costs should be ‘reasonable’ and should not exceed the costs incurred in making the information available. More information can be found at the Information Commissioner’s website.
• Organisations have 20 working days to respond to requests, although thiscan be extended to 40.
• If you get refused data and are unsatisfied, you can request an internal review with someone who did not deal with the original request And if you are still not satisfied, you can make a complaint to the Information Commissioner, which is free and relatively easy to do. More information can be found on the Commissioner’s website.