Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act all about? What rights does it provide for people seeking information? And what is environmental information?

Our Frequently Asked Questions aim to answer all your questions quickly and easily. If you are unable to find the information you are looking for, please use the search or browse the website for more in-depth information.

If you have questions which are not answered here or elsewhere on our website you can contact us for more information. 

Below are some general FAQs about FOI and the role of the Commissioner – find other topics in the menu on the left.

Covid-19 FOI UpdateThe FOI Act has been temporarily amended in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.  Visit our Covid-19 Information Hub to find out more.

What is freedom of information?

Freedom of information gives you legal rights to access information held by public sector bodies and some other organisations providing public services (collectively known as “public authorities”). This information may already be published, for example on a public authority’s website, or you can ask them for the information and they are required to respond to you.

FOI law in Scotland is different to the rest of the UK. The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) gives people the right to access information held by Scottish public authorities. There is a separate law – the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) – that covers public authorities in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland as well as those serving the UK as a whole.

FOI law isn’t just FOISA. Access to information about the environment – including factors affecting it such as emissions or noise, and policies and plans regarding the environment – is provided under separate legislation but the rights and procedures are generally similar to the FOI Acts.

Find more information about your rights or download our Your Right to Know guide.

Who is the Scottish Information Commissioner and what do they do?

The Scottish Information Commissioner is an independent regulator responsible for enforcing and promoting freedom of information in Scotland. The Commissioner employs a team of people to assist in carrying out these duties.

The current Commissioner is Daren Fitzhenry, who was nominated by the Scottish Parliament and formally appointed by HM The Queen in October 2017, for a 6-year term. Read Daren's biography to find out more about him.

The Commissioner investigates complaints from requesters who are unhappy with the response they have received from a Scottish public authority. The Commissioner will come to a decision and has powers to enforce that decision, including requiring an authority to provide information.

The Commissioner also takes steps to promote good practice by public authorities.

What's the difference between the Scottish Information Commissioner and the ICO?

The Scottish Information Commissioner and the UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) have separate roles and responsibilities.

The Scottish Information Commissioner oversees freedom of information law covering Scottish public authorities, while the ICO is responsible for authorities in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland as well as those serving the UK as a whole, such as UK government departments.

The ICO also covers data protection law – including requests for access to and erasure of your own personal information – for the whole of the UK, including Scotland. That means if you have a question or want to make a complaint about the use of your personal information, contact the ICO.

Learn more about your data protection rights.

What are the differences between the Scottish FOI Act and the UK FOI Act?

There are some technical differences in how authorities should respond to certain types of request, including time limits, fees and the use of some exemptions. There are also different rights of appeal. However, in general, both FOI Acts provide the same rights to access information, and you don’t need to know or state which law you are using when making a request.

Read a full comparison between the two FOI Acts on our Briefings page.

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