Make the most of your request

To ensure you receive the information you are looking for, it can be a good idea to spend a little bit of time thinking about your request to get it right. The better you can describe the information you're looking for, the easier it will be for the public authority to find it for you.

Is the information already published?

Before submitting an FOI request, it's a good idea to check whether the information you're looking for is already published. If it is, you'll be able to access it straight away, and won't have submit a request or wait for a response.

Is the information you want suitable for general publication? 

The aim of the FOI is to make information available to the general public. You can only obtain information that would be given to anybody who asked for it, or would be suitable for the general public to see.

Some information, such as records about a dead relative, or documents you need for legal purposes, may not be available under the Act but you may have a right to see the information you want under other legislation. The public authority holding the information you want should be able to advise you.

Keep it simple, specific and focused

Try and be as specific as you can when describing the information you want. Information requests which are too vague or too wide-ranging might lead to a response taking longer, or might mean unnecessary work and expense for the authority as staff look for information that you don't really want.  

Help the authority find the information you're looking for quickly by focusing your request as much as you can on the information you really need.

Requests can be made more focused by:

  • Specifying the issue that you're interested in (e.g. the closure of the school playground)
  • Including a date period (e.g. "I am only interested in information created after 1 January of this year")
  • Specifying the types of information that you're interested in (e.g. information contained in reports, minutes, or email correspondence relating to the issue)

How you word your request will depend on the information you are interested in, but the more specific you can be, the easier it will be for the authority to find the information, and send it to you quickly.

And remember, you can always make a further request if you later find that you don't quite have everything you need.

Seek advice and assistance from the public authority

Every public authority has a duty to advise and assist people who are making requests for information. If you're not sure how to word your request, or what might be held by the authority, you can contact them for advice. It can often be helpful to have a quick chat with the authority before putting in your request or if you have questions about the information that is sent to you in response.

Keep copies of your correspondence with the public authority

While most FOI requests are answered first time with the information being provided, authorities are entitled to refuse requests in certain circumstances.

If an authority doesn't respond, or if you're unhappy with the reasons that an authority gives for any refusal, you'll need copies of your correspondence when you appeal to the Commissioner.

Say how you would like to receive information

You may find it helpful to say how you would prefer to receive information - e.g. electronically, or in paper format. Where practical, authorities should do this. 

Be polite!

You may feel strongly about the subject of your request, but try and be as polite as you can when requesting information. Use everyday language, and avoid using any language that could be considered inappropriate or abusive - this could lead to your request being refused because it is "vexatious".

Check before sending

Read through your request before you send it. Try and put yourself in the shoes of the member of staff receiving your request. Is the information you're looking for clearly described? Is the information you've asked for likely to be recorded?