Freedom of Information
As a public authority The University of Manchester is subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA). This Act was passed on 30 November 2000, and was fully implemented on 1 January 2005. The enforcement of this Act is part of the remit of the Information Commissioner’s Office, who is also responsible for overseeing the General Data Protection Regulation.
The Act aims to promote openness and accountability within the public sector and provides the right of access to recorded information created and held by public authorities. A request does not need to cite the Act to be valid and should be responded to within twenty working days from its receipt subject to some exemptions applying.
The Freedom of Information Act obliges The University of Manchester to respond to individual requests for information and to produce, maintain and make available a Publication Scheme.
A Quick Guide is available to assist staff who have been asked by the Information Governance Office (IGO) to respond to a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It includes an overview of the most commonly used exemptions.
For further information please contact us.
An Introduction to FOI
- Information requests can be made by any individual or organisation from anywhere in the world and the Act is applicant- and purpose-blind which means that the requester is not required to inform the University as to why the information is being requested.
- A request should be in writing and state clearly what information is required and include a name and contact details.
- Almost any written request for information, whether in electronic or paper format, can be classed as a Freedom of Information request under the Act.
- The Act itself does not need to be cited when making a request.
- A request for information should be responded to within twenty working days from receipt and a requester may ask for the information to be provided in any format.
- There are provisions in the Act called exemptions (see below), which allow public authorities to refuse to disclose information for a number of reasons.
- The application of an exemption should be carefully considered and justified to ensure that we do not unlawfully refuse access to information that the requester is entitled to. All refusals should be referred to the Information Governance Office.
- Requests for information that are routinely dealt with, such as a request for a prospectus, should be handled by the relevant department as part of normal University routine.
- If a more complex request for information is received it should be referred to the Information Governance Office.
- It is an offence to alter or destroy information after it has been requested. If information was scheduled to be destroyed prior to the request being received we must reconsider its disposal and consider whether the information should be released to the requester.
Obligations under the Act
- Public authorities are obliged to respond to a request within twenty working days from its receipt.
- Public authorities are obliged to develop and maintain a publication scheme.
- Public authorities have a duty to offer advice and assistance to those who intend to make a request and to those that have submitted a request.
- Adopting a publication scheme is a legal requirement of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
- A publication scheme is a document which describes the information a public authority publishes, or intends to publish. In this context, publish means to make information available routinely.
- The scheme is not a list of the actual publications because this will change as new material is published or existing material revised. It is, however, the public authority's commitment to make available the information described.
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The University of Manchester FOI Publication Scheme
Who should respond to FOI requests?
- The University already answers requests for information as a matter of routine, for example sending prospectuses to prospective students, and such requests should be treated and responded to as they have always previously been done.
- Please refer anyof the following for the Information Governance Office to respond to:
- non-routine requests and requests that it is envisaged would take more than twenty working days to respond to;
- complex requests;
- requests for information that you do not wish to release or for information held in more than one area; and
- requests that refer to the Act or specifically state that it is a Freedom of Information request.
Exemptions under the Act
The Act establishes a general right of access to all the University’s recorded information and information can only be legitimately withheld if the information falls under an exemption as outlined in the Act.
Information categories which MAY be exempt from disclosure include information relating to such things as:
- information that may endanger the health and safety of any individual;
- personal data which is covered by the General Data Protection Regulation;
- information that is intended for future publication;
- information which is readily available elsewhere;
- information that may prejudice the University’s or another person’s commercial interests;
- information held under the obligation of confidentiality and;
- information relating to law enforcement.
Applying an exemption can be a complex process. Please contact the Information Governance Office if you think an exemption applies to requested information or to seek advice on whether an exemption can be applied. All requests where an exemption is to be applied should be referred to and responded to by the Information Governance Office.
Can we charge for information we supply?
There are no charges for information supplied within the ‘Appropriate Limit’ as defined by the Fees Legislation which means that no fees will be charged as long as the University spends less than £450 (or 18 hours work) in complying with the request.
What is the relationship between the FoIA and the data protection laws?
The General Data Protection Regulation regulates the way in which personal data relating to living individuals is collected, processed and disclosed. All requests and enquiries relating to personal data should be referred to the Information Governance Office.
Advice and guidance on the Freedom of Information Act 2000 can be obtained from the:
Information Governance Office
Compliance & Risk
The University of Manchester
G6 Christie Building
Manchester, M13 9PL
tel: +44 (0161) 275 7789