The Freedom of Information Act provides public access to information held by public authorities. It does this in two ways:
- public authorities are obliged to publish certain information about their activities; and
- members of the public are entitled to request information from public authorities.
The Act covers any recorded information that is held by a public authority in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and by UK-wide public authorities based in Scotland.
Public authorities include government departments, local authorities, the NHS, state schools and police forces. However, the Act does not necessarily cover every organisation that receives public money. For example, it does not cover some charities that receive grants and certain private sector organisations that perform public functions.
Recorded information includes printed documents, computer files, letters, emails, photographs, and sound or video recordings.
The Act does not give people access to their own personal data (information about themselves) such as their health records or credit reference file. If a member of the public wants to see information that a public authority holds about them, they should make a subject access request under the Data Protection Act 1998.
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