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FOI and elected representatives

FOI and elected representatives

FOI can be a useful resource for elected representatives, providing a right of access to information which can support them in their work.

Elected representatives - including MSPs and councillors - may also have some questions about how FOI affects them. Below we answer some of the common questions we are asked, and provide links to our guidance on using FOI to help elected representatives make the most of their rights.

Common questions

Are elected representatives covered by FOI law?

Elected representatives are not directly covered by FOI law. FOI applies to public authorities - and elected members are individuals, not public authorities.

Political parties are also not defined as public authorities under FOI law, so are not required to respond to FOI requests for information.

The information that elected members hold - including information on constituency or party-political business - is therefore not covered by FOI.

If they receive requests for information, MSPs or councillors may choose to answer them, but they are not required to do so by FOI law.

However, in certain circumstances, information about elected representatives may be accessible under FOI if:

  • they correspond with a public authority
    The correspondence may be accessible from the public authority. For example, if a councillor writes to a local authority about the proposed closure of a library, the information is likely to be held by the local authority for the purposes of FOI, and can be requested under FOI law.
  • they hold a formal position within an authority
    For example, if an MSP is also a Minister and they meet with a trade body about the development of a policy, information about the meeting is likely to be held by the Scottish Government. If a councillor sits on a council committee, information about the work of the committee is likely to be held by the local authority.
  • the authority in which they work holds information about them
    For example, if there are minutes of meetings, expenses information, registers of interests, and so on, this information is likely to be held by the authority (e.g. the Scottish Parliament or a local authority) for the purposes of FOI.
Can an elected representative use FOI?

Yes. Elected representatives have the same FOI rights as any other citizen. FOI can be used to access information in support of a wide range of constituency or campaign activity.

Visit our Your Rights pages for more information on using your FOI rights effectively.

Can an elected representative make a request on behalf of a constituent?

Yes, there is nothing to stop anyone requesting information on behalf of another person: it could be an MSP or councillor asking for information on behalf of a constituent, or a researcher on behalf of an elected representative. However, all information requests must contain the name of the person on whose behalf the request is being made, in order for the request to be valid under FOI law so, if making a request on behalf of someone else, be sure to include their name.

Are Parliamentary Questions FOI requests?

The rules around making and responding to Parliamentary Questions are different to those for FOI. Therefore, they are not considered valid information requests under FOI law.

Visit our Your Rights pages to find out how to make a valid request for information under FOI.