Your FOI Rights FAQ

What information can I access under FOI?

You can make a request to a Scottish public authority for any kind of recorded information. That includes written information held in paper files, electronic documents and emails as well as other formats such as audio and video.

Our guidance on what you can ask for provides examples of information you might want to see, including:

  • How and why decisions affecting local services have been made, such as cutbacks at hospitals or schools, or repairs to roads or buildings
  • The number of complaints about a particular issue, such as bullying in schools or missed bin collections, and whether action was taken as a result
  • Contracts with private companies for public services like cleaning, catering, care services or construction projects, to find out how these services are managed.

Remember, FOI only applies to recorded information – so it won't cover someone’s thoughts or opinions, unless they've been recorded, and authorities don’t have to create new information just to answer your request.

If you're not sure what information an authority holds, you can ask them before you make your request. Also, you might not have to make a request for the information that you want – it may be published already, for example on the authority’s website.

Are there different rules for environmental information?

Yes – if the information you want is about the environment, the authority will respond to your request under separate legislation, the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations (EIRs). There are equivalent Regulations covering the rest of the UK.

The EIRs cover information about the environment itself, about things that affect the environment – such as emissions, radiation or other types of pollution – and also policies and plans relating to the environment. Some examples of environmental information are:

  • Levels of chlorine in swimming pools
  • Water and air quality test report
  • Policies on genetically modified crops
  • Air conditioning systems in public buildings

The EIRs are generally similar to the FOI Act, although there are different rules for some aspects. We provide a comparison of FOI and EIR law on our Briefings page and explain this in the Your Rights section of our website.

How do I find out if an organisation is covered by the Scottish FOI Act?

Under FOI, you can ask for information from a wide range of Scottish public authorities, including:

  • The Scottish Government and its agencies
  • The Scottish Parliament
  • Local councils and NHS bodies
  • Universities and colleges
  • Police and fire services
  • Leisure and cultural trusts
  • Housing associations
  • Publicly-owned companies

…and many more. The list changes from time to time as new authorities are created, others are changed or abolished, or the law is amended to incorporate new types of organisation. The EIRs also apply to a broader range of authorities than FOI.

To find out if a particular authority is covered, check the list on our website. Alternatively, you can visit the organisation’s own website or ask them directly.

Can I send a request to an organisation outside Scotland?

It might be that the organisation you want information from is not on our list because it’s covered by the UK FOI Act (FOIA), for example if it’s a UK government department or agency. FOIA provides similar rights to information, which means you can make a request to one of these organisations, and if they’re covered, they must respond to you.

For advice on getting information from a UK public authority, you can contact the ICO. Don’t be put off sending a request just because you’re not sure whether the authority is covered and by which Act – all you have to do is ask.

Are private contractors covered by FOI?

Where a private company is carrying out a major public project, or another service that would normally be the responsibility of a Scottish public authority, it may be added to the list, but only its involvement in public-sector work would be covered, not any other parts of its business.

Either way, it may be that the authority for which the contractor is carrying out the project or service also holds relevant information which is already subject to FOI.

Anyone can recommend organisations to be covered by FOI. The Scottish Government has the power to designate new authorities, and it is they who make proposals that must then be agreed by the Scottish Parliament.

Get in touch with us if you have any queries about who is covered by FOI.

Can I see my own personal information?

Yes – the Data Protection Act gives you the right to see information about yourself, as well as to request correction, deletion or restrictions on the use of your own personal data.

Data protection law is enforced by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for the whole of the UK. The ICO website has lots of information and guidance about your data protection rights, and you can contact them if you have a query or want to make a complaint about the use of your data.

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