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Queen Elizabeth II. Cat ref: COAL 80/1045

Freedom of Information

What is Freedom of Information?

These pages explain your rights under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. They also explain how the Act may affect your research into the archives. There are separate pages for records managers and archivists.

The Freedom of Information ActExternal website - link opens in a new window was passed in November 2000 and came fully into effect from 1 January 2005. FOI gives people a right of access to information held by public bodies. The range of public bodies covered by FOI is very wide, ranging from central government departments to individual schools and parish councils. A full list of the bodies affected - FOI authorities - can be found in Schedule 1 of the Act. A separate Act covers public authorities in Scotland - the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.External website - link opens in a new windowThe list includes The National Archives and the rights of access apply both to our own administrative records and to the archives (the records transferred to us from other government departments).

FOI applies to information whatever its age, and whether it is at The National Archives or is still held by the originating government department. The 30 year standard closure period no longer determines access to records; instead, information is assumed to be ´open´ right from the start unless one of the exemptions set out in the Act applies. Exemptions are grounds to withhold information. They are clearly defined in the Act, are limited in number and are usually used where some harm might result if the information were to be released. The Ministry of Justice has produced a guide to FOI exemptions.External website - link opens in a new window

There are separate Environmental Information Regulations giving similar rights of access to environmental information.

Anyone, anywhere in the world, can send a written request for information (a letter, fax or email) to an FOI authority. The FOI authority must say whether it holds the information, and if it does, provide it. The rights of access are overridden only by the exemptions mentioned above.

Those disappointed with the response to their enquiry can complain to the Information Commissioner,External website - link opens in a new windowthe independent regulator of the Act. There is a further right of appeal to an Information Tribunal.

FOI has changed how records are made available to you, and how we respond to enquiries about the archives.

The following leaflets tell you more about making an FOI request

  • We make some information about our own operations available without your having to make a request to see it. We do this through our Publication Scheme
  • The FOI Act does not apply when you want to have a request for information about yourself. Such requests are made under the Data Protection Act.

Over 50,000 files were released to mark the full implementation of the Freedom of Information Act.

Latest quarterly monitoring report

For the most recent data about The National Archives performance under the Freedom of Information Act, see the quarterly monitoring report it submits with the other main central government departments to the Ministry of Justice (formerly the Department for Constitutional Affairs).

Information released in response to Freedom of Information requests

The National Archives handles around 60 requests per week for information in previously unopened records transferred from other government departments. For the descriptions of records released in response to these, see Records released under Freedom of Information

The National Archives also releases information in response to requests for information in its own administrative records. For descriptions of this information, see the Summary log of information disclosed from our own administrative records in response to FOI requests.


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