What is the purpose of the Freedom of Information Act?
To give the public greater access to information about the workings of Government and public bodies.
What rights does the Act create?
The Freedom of Information Act gives two related rights:
1. The right to be told whether the information exists, and
2. The right to receive the information (subject to exemptions).
When did the Act come into being?
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.
What information can be requested under the Freedom of Information Act?
Individuals have the right to request any recorded information held by the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Does the Freedom of Information Act apply to personal data?
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.
Who can request information?
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.
Does the General Right of Access only apply to records created from 1 January 2005?
No, the Act is fully retrospective.
Will an applicant be able to get all information requested?
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.
Can you refuse a request for information?
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.
What if you do not hold the information requested?
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.
Are there any cost limits for a Freedom of Information request?
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:
1. Determining whether we hold the information requested
2. Locating the information
3. Receiving such information or documents
4. 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.
What happens when the cost limit is not exceeded?
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.