What is freedom of information and what can I use it for?
Your right to know
You have the right to get information from almost every public authority in Scotland, including schools, colleges and universities; or your local council, doctor or hospital. You can even get information from the police and the Scottish Government. This is known as "freedom of information" or FOI.
Information you get from FOI requests can help you tackle a whole range of issues.
Concerned about bullying in your school and want to do something about it? Under FOI you could ask your school or council for information on the number of reported incidents of bullying each year; how these compare with other schools; or whether there’s a problem with particular types of bullying (e.g. because of race or gender).
Read more examples of how people have used their FOI rights.
How do I use it?
All you have to do is email (or write to) one of the organisations covered by FOI, making sure to include your name and address, and ask for the information you want.
Try to be as clear as you can about what you want, to make sure you get the information you’re looking for. Public organisations have to give you advice and assistance to make requests, so feel free to ask them for help!
The Scottish Information Commissioner, who is responsible for FOI, also has some tips on how to make a request.
Once you’ve made your request, the organisation must respond to you as soon as possible, and within no more than 20 working days (i.e. not counting weekends and bank holidays).
Can I ask for anything?
You can ask for anything, but it will only be covered by FOI if it’s been recorded by someone in the organisation – e.g. in a note, email, document or recording.
In most cases, you should get everything you ask for. Organisations can refuse to provide information in some situations.
For example, if the information you’re looking for is private information about someone else, it’s very unlikely it’ll be given to you. Or, if releasing the information would harm a criminal investigation or would lead to a health and safety risk, then it could be withheld.
If an organisation does withhold some or all of the information you’ve asked for, you can appeal their decision. Find out more about the right of appeal here.
What if it's information about me?
If it’s your own personal information that you want to see, then your request would come under the Data Protection Act, which gives you a right to access your own personal information.
Want to know more?
The Scottish Information Commissioner has lots of information about using FOI on their website.
Or check out this short video explaining how FOI works:
FOI: Your Right to Know on Biteable.