The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI) provides the legal framework for publishing information held by publicly-owned bodies, such as central government, local councils and authorities.
Everyone has the right to request information held by public sector organisations under the Act. With many public services now outsourced to the private sector, it is important that commercial organisations understand their obligations under freedom of information rules. Failure to do so will prevent companies from bidding for public sector contracts.
We've set out some key points to consider when complying with FOI which is useful for public servants and business executives alike...
FOI compliance - here's what to consider
E RADAR's top tips to help you with FOI compliance
- Build freedom of information into your communication plans. Consider “What would be released under freedom of information”
- Get to know your freedom of information officer, so you know what kind of requests are being made of your organisation.
- Prepare additional information to supply useful context where necessary.
- Check freedom of information requests regularly to identify what’s interesting your stakeholders, and who they are. If you spot a trend, make the information available on your website and update your organisation’s publication scheme. Consider making a feature of regular or growing topics for request.
- Work closely with your freedom of information officer to ensure your website offers the right information. Make sure that it’s up to date and easily accessible.
- Coordinate freedom of information work with media enquiries, Parliamentary Questions and blog monitoring - they often cover similar issues at the same time.
- Ring journalists when they have made a freedom of information request. Junior journalists often make a request instead of going to the press office - offering help can be beneficial to both parties.Vague or poorly worded questions don’t make good or accurate stories – remember the Freedom of Information Act 2000 requires you to give help and assistance.
- Consider how the information might be released. For example, will you release the information on your website as soon as you get the request, or manage the story through the journalist who requested it?
- The Freedom of Information Act 2000 is retrospective: consider the skeletons in your organisation’s cupboard - make it part of your risk assessment process, and identify mitigating actions.
- Include freedom of information performance in your Annual Report and corporate audit schedule.
- Keep your files up to date, tidy and easy to access; stick to your retention schedules, and weed your files out regularly. It makes responding to requests much easier.
- Train your staff in good records management and in email writing and note taking skills.
- Have a contingency plan. Your organisation may not want to release the information, but bosses may order you to release it. Consider how you’ll handle it.