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Duty to Respond150pxlCovid-19 and FOI: Requesting information

 

Covid-19 FOI Update

In response to the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic, the Scottish Parliament has passed emergency legislation, the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020, which makes temporary changes in a number of areas, including freedom of information (FOI). Further changes were made which came into force on 27 May 2020.

The changes to FOI are designed to recognise that many public sector organisations are currently facing challenges as a result of the pandemic – for example due to staff absences, office closures, or increased demand for services such as health and social care. However, for the most part, requesting information under FOI will continue as normal.

FOI law in Scotland during the Covid-19 pandemic

  • Despite recent changes to FOI law, you still have the right to request information from Scottish public authorities, and to receive it (with only a very limited number of exceptions).
  • Authorities must still respond to requests for information promptly, and in no more than 20 working days.
  • If you are unhappy with the response, or the way the authority has dealt with your request, you can still ask them to carry out a review, and the same timescales apply to these requests.
  • Under FOI law, authorities also have a duty to publish as much information as possible, so that people can access that information without having to make a request.

If you made any requests for information or for review between 7 April and 26 May 2020 (or if you were waiting for a response to a request you made before then), be aware that the timescales were temporarily changed. During this time, authorities still had to respond promptly, but within a maximum of 60 working days.

For requests made on or after 27 May 2020 – and those which had not yet been responded to before 27 May – the timescale has changed back to 20 working days, and you are able to ask for a review and subsequently appeal to the Commissioner if the authority has failed to respond within 20 working days. 

However, the Commissioner will take into account the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic – and the fact that the maximum timescale was extended at that time – when deciding whether the authority complied with FOI law in handling your request.

Law Icon Read more about the temporary changes to the FOI Act >>>


Asking for information during the Covid-19 pandemic

Freedom of information is an important tool for ensuring that Scottish public authorities are accountable for the work they do and the decisions they make. The FOI principles of openness and transparency are key in helping to retain and strengthen public trust. The "right to information" provided by FOI therefore remains critically important during the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, when planning a request for information, you may wish to consider the effects of the pandemic on the authority. There are ways in which you can reduce the impact of a request while still accessing the information you need. For example:

  • Think about whether your request can be narrowed down to help speed up the response. Our Tips for Requesters page has lots of advice that can help with this.
  • Remember, FOI law also requires that public bodies publish lots of information about their work – including information on the decisions they make, the services they provide, their policies and procedures and the money they spend. Take a look at their website before making a request – the information you need might be just a few clicks away.
  • Authorities also have a duty to provide advice and assistance to people seeking access to information – before and after the request is made. If appropriate, consider contacting the authority if there is something you're unsure of or to ask if they already publish the information you are looking for.

If you need more information about your rights to access information Scottish public authorities, including during the pandemic, the Commissioner can help. Read the general guidance available on our website – www.ItsPublicKnowledge.info/YourRights – and take a look at the other sections of our Covid-19 Infohub via the links below. You can also contact us.

Duty to Advise150pxl Read answers to some frequently asked questions about Covid-19 and FOI >>>


Further information

Duty to Advise150pxl Covid-19 and FOI: Your questions answered >>>

Hub Icon Covid-19 and FOI: Information hub >>>

Law Icon The Covid-19 emergency changes to FOI law in Scotland >>>

News Icon Latest news on FOI during the Covid-19 pandemic >>>


We will continue to update the information on these pages as the situation changes and new information becomes available.

Our office is currently closed but if you have an urgent query please contact us.

This page was last updated on 05 June 2020.


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