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, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) 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. For example, you might be concerned about your school, college or university’s approach to:
- dealing with bullying
- student safety on campus
- health and safety (including in relation to the pandemic)
FOI gives you a right to ask for any information they hold about the issue.
For example, if you’re concerned about bullying, you could ask for their anti-bullying policy, to check it’s being followed properly. You could also ask for information on:
- the number of reported cases of bullying each year;
- whether there’s a problem with particular types of bullying (e.g. because of race or gender)
- what action has been taken (or is planned) to deal with the problem.
All this information could help you better understand the issue – and perhaps even help fix it.
There are lots of ways you can use FOI. Read how FOI helped campaigners against devices designed to stop young people gathering in public places.
How do you use it?
All you have to do is email 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 (so not counting weekends and bank holidays).
Can you 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 – such as in an email, document, note 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 personal information about someone else, it’s very unlikely it’ll be given to you. Information might also be withheld if it would harm a criminal investigation or endanger health and safety. However, most information people ask for under FOI is given to the people who ask for it.
If an organisation does withhold some or all of the information you’ve asked for, you can also appeal against their decision. Find out more about the right of appeal.
What if it's information about you?
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 information which is about you. Find out more about accessing your own personal information.
Want to know more?
The Scottish Information Commissioner has lots of information about using FOI on their website. You can also contact them via email on firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Or check out this short video explaining how FOI works.