Freedom of Information Act

The access provisions of the Freedom of Information Act came fully into force in January 2005. The Act replaced the access provisions for UK public records set out in the Public Records Act 1958-1967. The Act also governs access to information held by most public sector bodies. Scottish bodies are covered by the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

A full list of bodies covered by Freedom of Information (FOI) is available on the Ministry of Justice website. The website also contains general guidance on implementing and using the Act.

Freedom of Information and records management

The Lord Chancellor has issued two Codes of Practice under the Act.

The section 45 Code sets out good practice in handling requests for information. It also includes a section on Freedom of Information and public sector contracts.

The section 46 Code is a technical document aimed at supporting management of public authority records and information under the Act. The Code places information management in the context of broad principles, providing an accessible framework which outlines how authorities should best manage their information to support appropriate public access under the Act. The Code also clarifies the basis on which the Advisory Council on National Records and Archives operates.

The Information Commissioner and the Chief Executive of The National Archives have signed a Memorandum of Understanding setting out how they will work together on promoting and monitoring the records management code:

Memorandum of Understanding between the Information Commissioner and the Chief Executive of The National Archives (PDF, 1.6MB)

The Memorandum is under review. An updated version will be available later this year in line with data protection reform.

Paragraph 19 of the Memorandum sets out that the Information Commissioner and the Chief Executive of The National Archives will share knowledge, expertise, best practice and intelligence in relation to matters of mutual interest. How this commitment will apply when the Information Commissioner issues a practice recommendation under the Freedom of Information Act is described within the consultation process agreement:

ICO TNA practice recommendation consultation process 2023 (PDF, 0.11 MB)

Guidance for records managers

The National Archives is working to promote compliance with the Code of Practice on the Management of Records in all public authorities. Our guidance for records managers includes:

  • a set of guides to each aspect of the Code
  • an evaluation workbook to help authorities in the wider public sector assess their records management against the Code
  • a programme to assess levels of risk faced by government departments through failure to comply with the Code

Guidance for archive services and places of deposit

Freedom of Information has affected archive provision by both public records and private collections held in public institutions and places of deposit. The National Archives has produced guidance for archivists on how Freedom of Information has affected the management of these records and how to handle access requests:

Freedom of Information: Procedures and guidance for public records in Places of Deposit (PDF, 0.96 MB)

Assessing whether deposited private archive collections are covered by the Freedom of Information Act  (PDF, 0.12 MB)

Freedom of Information, Copyright and copying of records held in archives (PDF, 0.03 MB)

All our guidance on Freedom of Information can also be found in our guidance A-Z.