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Freedom of information

By Colin Penman, on 27 September 2016

From time to time we receive requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act.  Most of us should at least be aware of this legislation by now, but I thought it might be helpful to remind you of a few points, and where to go for advice.

What does a request look like?

To be valid, a request must simply be in writing, give a name and address for correspondence (this can be simply an email address), and describe the information requested.  It does not have to mention the Act.  ‘Writing’ includes letter, email or social networks.

Who can make a request?

Anyone – they do not have to be UK citizens, or live in the UK.  Requests can also be made by organisations, such as businesses or campaign groups.

What information does the Act apply to?

The Act covers all recorded information, in any form and format, including information we receive from other people and organisations.  Exemptions may apply, meaning some information can be withheld, but there is a presumption in favour of disclosure.

How long do we have to respond?

20 working days.

What should I do if I receive a request?

Twenty working days may sound like a long time, but some requests are complex, and require a lot of coordination and checking, and the clock starts when the organisation receives the request, not the team responsible for handling it.

There is a Data Protection and Freedom of Information Team in Legal Services which handles all UCL’s requests.  If you receive a request which you think might be subject to the Act, you should forward it immediately to foirequests@ucl.ac.uk, and cc me.  I am the DP & FOI Coordinator for Library Services, and will coordinate handling of requests that involve information held by the Library.

If you are concerned about anything, or would like to know more, please get in touch, and I will be happy to discuss.  You can find more information at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/foi/guidelines and http://www.ucl.ac.uk/finance/legal/foi-overview.

Colin Penman
Head of Records

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