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Commissioner reports significant increase in FOI appeals

Commissioner reports significant increase in FOI appeals

2 November 2022

The Scottish Information Commissioner has reported a significant increase in the number of appeals made from people who are unhappy with a Scottish public authority’s handling of a freedom of information (FOI) request. The Commissioner’s latest Report reveals that, during 2021-22, he received 626 FOI appeals: a 29% increase on the previous year. 

The report also reveals that Scotland’s public authorities received more than 70,000 FOI requests last year, with most of these (86%) answered within the FOI time limit of 20-working days, and the majority (73%) leading to the disclosure of some or all of the information requested.

FOI gives people the right to request and receive information held by Scottish public authorities, with requests only able to be refused if FOI law allows it. Requesters who are unhappy with a response can ask the public authority to review its decision, and if they’re still unhappy they can appeal to the independent Scottish Information Commissioner.

The Commissioner’s report notes that the number of appeals received was the highest since 2005-2006, the year which followed the introduction of Scotland’s FOI law. Members of the public were responsible for nearly three-quarters of last year’s appeals, with other appeals being made by the media, commercial organisations and elected representatives.

Commenting on the increase, Scottish Information Commissioner Daren Fitzhenry said:

“The increase in the number of appeals received shows the strength of the public appetite for accessing reliable and accurate information from Scotland’s public authorities. 

“The appeals we received covered requests for information on a wide range of subjects of personal and public interest: from discharges from hospitals to care homes during the pandemic to neighbourhood noise complaints; from a review of the Curriculum for Excellence to issues relating to local planning.

“While appeals to me have increased, it’s important to remember that these account for fewer than 1% of the total FOI requests made in Scotland each year, meaning that most people who use their FOI rights don’t have to think about an appeal. Indeed, by far the most common experience when people use FOI is that they receive the information they’re looking for, helping them to better understand the issue at the heart of their request."

The Commissioner publishes information, guidance and advice for the public on using their FOI rights at www.itspublicknowledge.info/yourrights.  


More Information

FOI Rights: At a Glance
  • FOI gives you a right to receive information from public authorities
  • FOI applies to public authorities, including local councils, the Scottish Government, colleges, universities, the NHS, housing associations and the police
  • FOI gives a right to recorded information: that is information stored and held in some way
  • FOI requests must be made in a recorded format e.g. a letter, email or audio file
  • If you need help to make your request, public authorities must help you
  • Public authorities must respond promptly, and within 20 working days
  • Most requests result in the information being provided
  • Most information is provided free of charge
  • Information can only be withheld in some circumstances
  • FOI also requires that authorities publish certain information, to save you having to ask for it 
  • If you’re unhappy with an FOI response you can, after asking the authority to reconsider its response, appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner
  • If the Commissioner finds an authority has acted wrongly in withholding information he can tell the authority to provide it

Find out more about using your FOI rights.