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Who can I ask?

Who can I ask?

FOI covers a wide range of organisations right across Scotland.

Your right to information applies to organisations that are covered by the FOI Act. In general, it applies to Scottish public bodies and a number of other organisations that provide public services for Scottish public bodies. This includes:

  • The Scottish Government
  • Local councils
  • The NHS
  • Police and fire services
  • Universities and colleges
  • Housing associations

We publish downloadable lists of individual Scottish public authorities, with their contact details, below.

These organisations must comply with the FOI Act, including by responding to requests for information.

How organisations may be covered by FOI

There are three ways in which an organisation may be covered by the FOI Act - find out more below.

Listed in Schedule 1 of the FOI Act

The FOI Act contains a list of most of the types of Scottish public authorities that must respond to information requests. This is in Schedule 1 of the FOI Act.

Below we summarise the types of authorities listed under Schedule 1:

  • The Scottish Ministers - the Scottish Government, including Scottish members of the civil service, and government agencies such as Scottish Prison Service.
  • The Scottish Parliament & Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) - the Parliament, and the organisation which runs it. Individual members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) and their political parties are not covered.
  • Non-Ministerial Office Holders - these are named in Schedule 1 and include small bodies including inspectorates, such as HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, and the Chief Medical Officer.
  • Local Government - local authorities (councils) for all their functions, including education, housing, roads, waste, etc. Local authority joint boards, licensing boards and assessors. Health and Social Care Partnerships.
  • The National Health Service - all Scottish NHS Boards (which run most Scottish hospitals). Individual health practitioners - including GPs, dentists, pharmacists and ophthalmologists - are covered in relation to their NHS work.
  • Educational Institutions - Scottish universities and colleges
  • Police - the Police Service of Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority which provides support services e.g. forensic services.
  • Others - other public authorities, including national bodies such as the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service; Non-Departmental Public Bodies; regulatory bodies, commissioners and ombudsmen.
A publicly owned company

Publicly-owned companies are also subject to the FOI Act and must respond to requests for information that they hold. The definition of a publicly owned company is one which is completely owned by one or more Scottish public authorities. This is set out in Section 6 of the FOI Act.

There is no definitive list of publicly-owned companies. If you are unsure whether a company is publicly-owned, you can contact us for advice. Otherwise, contact the company directly and ask them.

Examples of publicly-owned companies:

  • Skills Development Scotland
  • Prestwick Airport
  • Scottish Futures Trust
  • Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd (FMEL)
  • Scotrail Trains Limited
Designated by Scottish Ministers

Scottish Ministers (in other words, the Scottish Government) can bring organisations which appear to "exercise functions of a public nature" under the FOI Act. This is known as designation, and is carried out by issuing a statutory order under section 5 of the FOI Act.

Designations might focus on the function the organisation delivers, rather than the organisation as a whole. This means you would have rights to ask for information they hold about the function, but not all information held by the organisation.

If you're unsure, ask the body itself if it is covered. If you're still uncertain, you can contact us for advice.

Housing associations

A 2019 Order brought registered social landlords (housing associations) and many of their subsidiaries under FOI law from 11 November 2019.

The Order means that FOI rights apply to information held by registered social landlords and subsidiaries in relation to the following services:

  • the prevention and alleviation of homelessness
  • the management of social housing accommodation
  • the provision and management of sites for gypsies and travellers

Information which is supplied to the Scottish Housing Regulator about financial well-being and standards of governance is also covered. Information relating to other services, such as the provision of services for owners and occupiers of houses (e.g. private factoring services) or the management of private or mid-market rental accommodation, isn't covered by FOI.

Private prisons, special schools, and others

A 2016 Order designated the following as being subject to FOI:

  • Contractors who run privately managed prisons (such as HMP Addiewell and HMP Kilmarnock)
  • Providers of secure accommodation
  • Grant-aided schools
  • Independent special schools
  • Scottish Health and Innovations Ltd.

The Order came into force on 1 September 2016.

Local authority leisure and culture trusts

A 2013 Order designated leisure, sports and cultural trusts created by local authorities (for example, Edinburgh Leisure, Glasgow Life and Aberdeen Performing Arts). These bodies have been subject to FOI since 1 April 2014.

Animated guide - Who can I ask?

Environmental information

If your request is for environmental information, you also have the right to ask for information from other organisations, as well as those listed above.

Find out more in our guidance on requests for environmental information.

Organisations not subject to FOI law

Not all organisations in Scotland are subject to FOI law. This means you do not have rights to access the information they hold. Of course, such organisations may choose to respond to you, but you don't have the same legal rights.

Examples of organisations not subject to FOI

Here are some examples of types of organisations that are not subject to FOI law:

  • Individual Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) and elected councillors
  • Political parties
  • Companies that are not wholly publicly owned
  • Private law firms
  • Professional or membership bodies e.g. the Law Society, COSLA, trade unions
  • Banks (including those owned by the UK government)
Other types of organisations

It isn't always so clear for other types of organisations:

  • Registered social landlords (RSLs, also known as housing associations) are subject to the FOI Act, but only for certain functions. They are, however, also fully covered by the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004. This means you have rights to ask for any environmental information they hold, but for other information, it must relate to specified functions. 
  • Most charities and voluntary organisations are not subject to FOI law, but there are some important exceptions - such as local authority leisure, sports and cultural trusts, which have been designated under the FOI Act.
  • Utility companies, including electricity and gas companies are not subject to the FOI Act, but Scottish Water is a listed authority in Schedule 1 of the Act. So you can ask Scottish Water for any type of information that it holds.

If you are thinking about making a request, but not sure whether you have a legal right to ask, we recommend you first contact the organisation. If you encounter problems or need help, you are welcome to contact us.

Your Right to Know (BSL) - Who can I ask?