The Freedom of Information Act - accessing public information
From 1 February 2016, the Freedom of Information Act 2015 (FOIA) gives Isle of Man residents a legal right to ask for information that is held by the public authorities.
What information does this apply to?
Requests can be made for information created on, or after, 11 October 2011, which is held by
- Cabinet Office
- Department of Environment Food and Agriculture
Other public bodies will be gradually phased in during 2016 – 2018. Although FOIA requests cannot be made to other public bodies, or for information created before 11 October 2011, requests for such information can be made under the existing Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.
Guidance on making requests under the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information is available via the Isle of Man Government portal.
Can I make a request?
A person resident in the Island can make a request. A person can be an individual or any body of persons, corporate or unincorporated.
A person who makes a request is known as an ‘applicant’.
Non-resident persons cannot make requests for information under FOIA but may do so under the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.
What can I ask for?
An applicant can request information held by a public authority (authority) irrespective of the form in which it is recorded.
The right is to ‘information’ only. Whilst information may be recorded in varying formats, such as documents, images, or audio or visual recordings, the entitlement is to the particular information requested and not, for example, to a copy of the entire document.
Information which is about you cannot be requested under FOIA and you must exercise your right under the Data Protection Act and make a ‘subject access request’ for your personal data. Guidance on how to make a subject access request is available on the website.
How do I make a request?
Applicants must make clear requests using the standard form. The form will be available from the authority.
If you are not sure about making a request you should contact the authority as it has a duty to give reasonable advice and assistance at all stages of a request. Guidance on making a request will be made available on the website.
How much does it cost?
Details of fees, if charged, and when they should be paid, will be available from the authority.
What will I get?
In most circumstances you will be provided with the information you have requested.
Can my request be refused for any reason?
There are practical reasons for refusing requests.
A request cannot be made for information which is already reasonably accessible, including:
- information available in public libraries or archives, on the internet or from any other reasonably accessible source;
- information publicly available on payment of a statutory fee. For example, public documentation available from companies’ registry or general registry.
Other practical refusal reasons include:
- where the authority does not hold the information requested, or
- the authority would be required to compile or create new information to respond to the request.
A request may also be refused if:
- it is not clear enough;
- a substantially similar request has been made to the authority in the recent past; or
- the request is vexatious, malicious, frivolous, misconceived or lacking in substance.
There are also exemptions from the right of access that can be applied to certain information in particular circumstances.
Some exemptions are “absolute” and others are “qualified” and it will be a matter of fact whether an exemption applies. If a qualified exemption applies, the authority must also consider the balance of the public interest in the information when deciding whether or not to supply the information.
Guidance on practical refusal reasons and exemptions will be made available on the website.
How will I know if my request has been refused, or why?
An authority must send you a refusal notice within the standard time if it is not going to comply with your request in full, or in part.
The refusal notice must explain why the request is being refused, including details of why any exemptions are being applied and, in the case of qualified exemptions, why the public interest requires that the information is not disclosed.
When can I expect to get the information?
The authority should send you an acknowledgement of your request explaining when you will get the response.
The authority must supply the information you have sought promptly, but within 20 working days from receipt of the request (the standard time). In calculating the standard time, the day the request is received is Day 0. For requests received on a non-working day, or after 17:00hrs on a working day, Day 0 will be the first working day following receipt.
An extended response time can only be taken if the authority needs to continue making a decision about whether a qualified exemption applies to the information. If an extended period is required, the authority must write and tell you before the end of the standard time.
What can I do if I am not happy with the way the request has been handled?
Firstly you should ask the authority to review its handling of the request using the form available from the authority.
Reviews are an integral part of an authority’s complaints procedures and may result in the supply of some, or all, of the information or a further refusal.
You can ask the Information Commissioner for a review only when you have exhausted the authority’s complaints procedures. You will be known as the “review applicant”.
Guidance on how to ask for a review by the Information Commissioner will be made available on the website.
Further guidance on the Freedom of Information Act is being developed by the Information Commissioner and this will be made available on the website.
Material on the Information Commissioner's site is independent of that hosted by the Isle of Man Government and is protected by copyright. The copyright owner is the Isle of Man Information Commissioner. You may not make alterations or additions to the material on this site, or sell it or misappropriate it. Material may be downloaded or copied for personal use. However, appropriate acknowledgement of the copyright owner is required if material is re-published in any format.
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