Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is the purpose of the Freedom of Information Act 2000?
A. To give the public greater access to information about the workings of Government and public bodies.
Q. What rights does the Act create?
A. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 gives two related rights:
- The right to be told whether the information exists, and
- The right to receive the information (subject to exemptions).
Q. When did the Act come into being?
A. The general Right of Access came into effect on 1 January 2005. Public authorities at that time also had to adopt and maintain a Publication Scheme. The Police Service has had such as scheme in place since 30 June 2003.
Q. What information can be requested under the Freedom of Information Act 2000?
A. Individuals have the right to request any recorded information held by the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Q. Does the Freedom of Information Act apply to personal data?
A. The Freedom of Information Act gives you the right to request information held by all public authorities. It does not provide a right of access to personal information. If you are requesting personal data this will be handled as a Subject Access Request under the Data Protection Act. A PSNI guidance and an application form can be found on our Subject Access Request page.
Q. Who can request information?
A. Under the Freedom of Information Act, any individual, anywhere in the world, is able to make a request to a public authority for information. An applicant is entitled to be informed in writing as to whether the information is held and have the information communicated to them. If any of the information is to be refused, the Police Service of Northern Ireland must provide the applicant with a refusal notice which clearly states the reasons why we are withholding the information requested and making clear the appeals process.
Q. Does the General Right of Access only apply to records created from 1 January 2005?
A. No, the Act is fully retrospective.
Q. Will an applicant be able to get all information requested?
A. Not always. The Freedom of Information act recognises that there will be valid reasons why some kinds of information may be withheld.
If you do not receive all / any of the information requested you have the right of review via the Central Freedom of Information Office and thereafter may complain to the Information Commissioner's Office.
The Information Commissioner's Office can serve notice on the Service to provide the information requested.
Q: Can you refuse a request for information?
A. Yes. We may refuse a request for information where:
- The request is vexatious or repeated.
- The cost of complying with the request exceeds the ‘appropriate limit’.
- The information requested falls under one of the exemptions as defined by the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
Q: What if you do not hold the information requested?
A. If we do not hold the information requested we must confirm this in writing within 20 working days. This is not technically classified as a Refusal Notice, but simply follows our requirement to confirm or deny whether we hold it. When appropriate we will also give an explanation of why we do not hold the information, particularly in cases where the information has been deleted in line with a disposal schedule. We also have a duty to provide advice and assistance, so far as it would be reasonable to expect it to do so in accordance with the Code of Practice. This could include advising an applicant if information is available elsewhere or assisting them in focusing their request, perhaps by advising of the types of information available within the requested category.
Q. Are there any cost limits for a Freedom of Information request?
A. Yes. The appropriate cost limit for a request is £600 for central government and parliament and £450 for other public authorities. (i.e. the Police Service of Northern Ireland). This means when the Police Service receives a request we need to estimate how much it will cost to deal with it and if it will be within this limit.
When estimating the cost of compliance we can take into consideration the cost of:
- Determining whether we hold the information requested
- Locating the information
- Receiving such information or documents
- The cost of staff time associated with these activities is currently calculated at £25 per hour. This equates to 18 hours work to fall within the £450 cost limit.
Q: What happens when the cost limit is not exceeded?
A. Where the limit is not exceeded, the only charges that may be passed to you are those associated with providing the information, for example photocopying and postage. You will be informed if any costs are to be incurred prior to release.
Q: What happens when the cost limit is exceeded?
A. Where we estimate that the limit will be exceeded we are not obliged to comply with the request and will inform you by way of a refusal notice.
As part of our duty to provide advice and assistance to applicants, we will explain what, if any, information could be provided within the cost limit and advise the applicant that they may wish considering narrowing down their request.
Q. How do I make a request?
A. A request must:
- Be made in writing (this can be made electronically e.g. fax, email)
- State the name of the applicant and an address for correspondence
- Describe the information requested
A PSNI application form can be found on our Right of Access page.
Q: How quickly will you respond to a request for information?
The central Freedom of Information Team will inform you in writing whether the Police Service of Northern Ireland hold the information requested and if so, communicate that information to you, normally within 20 working days after receipt of your request. In some circumstances a request may be refused. If this is the case, a Refusal Notice informing you of our reasons will be issued to you. This notice will normally be communicated to you within 20 working days.
Q. Can I choose how I receive the information?
A. Yes. When making a request you may state a preference of how you want to receive the information. This could be by providing a hard copy or an electronic copy of the information. The Police Service of Northern Ireland will ensure compliance as far as is reasonably practical or notify you as to why it is not possible.
Q. What can I do if I am not satisfied with the way that my request has been handled?
A. Our response will include details of our internal complaint procedures, known as an Internal Review. An Internal Review is conducted by a senior manager independent of the original decision making process. You will receive the outcome of an internal review as early as possible and within 2 calendar months.
If you are not satisfied with the outcome of the internal review you can complain to the Information Commissioner's Office, the Government Regulator for the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
Q. What is a Publication Scheme?
A. Publication Schemes are a feature of the United Kingdom's legislation on access to information held by public authorities. Its purpose is to be a means by which a public authority can make a significant amount of information available routinely, without waiting for someone to specifically request it. The information provided by the PSNI can be found in our Publication Scheme and is published within the guidelines as defined by the Information Commissioner and agreed by the Association of Chief Police Officers
Q. Do I have to pay for any of the information included in the Publication Scheme?
A. There is no charge for viewing information on our website or for inspecting documents however; there may be a charge for information supplied, depending on the nature of the information, in relation to the cost of its provision (photocopying / postage etc).
Q. What if I want some information that is not included in the Publication Scheme?
A. If the information you seek is not available in the Publication Scheme (or on the PSNI website) you may make a request under Right Of Access.
Q: Who ensures that the PSNI are complying with the Act?
A. The Information Commissioner's Office is responsible for ensuring that all public authorities (including the Police Service of Northern Ireland) comply with the Act. Applicants can appeal to the Information Commission regarding refusal to release and they can, if appropriate, serve notice on the Service to provide information previously refused.
Q. What is the Information Commissioner's Office?
A. The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is the UK's independent public body set up to promote access to official information and protect personal information. The Ministry of Justice is their sponsoring department within the Government.
Q. What are the Environmental Regulations?
A. The regulations give members of the public the right to access environmental information held by public authorities.
- Environmental information is divided into the following six main areas:
- The state of the elements of the environment, such as air, water, soil, land, fauna (including human beings)
- Emissions and discharges, noise, energy, radiation, waste and other such substances
- Measures and activities such as policies, plans, and agreements affecting or likely to affect the state of the elements of the environment
- Reports, cost-benefit and economic analyses
- The state of human health and safety, contamination of the food chain
- Cultural sites and built structures (to the extent they may be affected by the state of the elements of the environment)