Freedom of Information

Take the Grazing Way for Easy Freedom of Information Requests

June 12, 2017

Make Hay While the Sun Shines

At Request Initiative we find it useful to consider two very different approaches to making a Freedom of Information request. This post is going to focus on the first and most simple: the grazing technique.

This involves targeting information which does not fall within the scope of any exemptions.

Making a Freedom of Information request can be incredibly simple. It might involve sending a single email. Or even a tweet. 

Knowing the Law

This might ask nothing more complex than, “who is your highest paid employee and how much are they paid?” You don’t even need to state that this is a Freedom of Information request.

This approach puts the burden of knowing the law and then locating the information in the hands of the public authority.

It is even the responsibility of the public authority to recognise your email or tweet as a Freedom of Information request, or even a request under the Environment Information Regulations.

The Basics of the Freedom of Information Act

If the request is refused you can simply reply to the email with the words, “I would like an internal review”.

If your request is again refused you can still take it further: to the Information Commissioner’s Office or even in an appeal to the Information Tribunal. The basics of the Freedom of the Information Act are really that simple.

The trick with grazing is to have a quick look at the exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act.

A Quick Look at the Exemptions

These include an exemption for any information held by MI5; also information held by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that might embarrass a friendly government and also any sensitive personal information.

Then try and think of information to which none of these exemptions can be applied.

It really is that simple. Avoid the brambles, avoid the long grass, avoid any pitholes. This is grazing. Making hay while the sun shines.

Without Investing Too Much Effort

Even with grazing, though, a more targeted and informed request is much more likely to be successful. Although it might take considerably more time to compose this should be time well spent.

Each stage of the Freedom of Information Act process will take at least 20 working days and there are some simple steps to that can be taken to significantly increase the potential for disclosure.

Next week we will suggest five top tips designed to help a moderately experienced requester obtain more information without investing too much effort. The week after, we will publish five more.

This series of posts is based on Request Initiative’s handbook: ‘FOIA without the Lawyer: Freedom, Information and the Press’ which is available from the Center for Investigative Journalism, and from Amazon.