Many articles in the press or on tv quote using the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to obtain information.. but what is this piece of legislation?
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 came into force in England and Wales on 1st January 2005. It applies to all non-personal information held by “Public Authorities” – eg NHS bodies; state educational bodies; central government; local government etc. This legislation replaces Codes of Practice for access to official information that existed previously.
If this law is about the information held by Public Authorities, just how powerful is it? Just ask an MP! One example of a journalist using this law to its fullest extent was the resulting MPs Expenses Scandal. All the information about the MPs “misuse” of public money came into the public domain as a direct result of a journalist requesting relevant information from the House of Commons (a “public authority”) and the MPs not being able to claim it was not in the public interest to publish!
What use is this for the ordinary person in the street? Anyone can make a request for information from a Public Authority and they have to consider disclosing it and also whether or not to make it publicly available as well. There are rules, of course, but the general “rule of thumb” is to disclose unless there are very specific and justifiable reasons not to. This information may include policy information or contract information – the latter can help you grow your business. How much are they currently paying for a product/service? If one client had known in advance that a certain NHS Trust would not entertain working in their particular field of complementary therapy, a lot of ensuing problems on both sides would have been avoided! Another client wanted more detail about why a Bid failed with a school- it turned out that the school was only interested in working with a local company, but did not put this into the Specification – information we obtained using this law!.