The annual statistics cover the implementation and operation of the Act 2000 in central government. The publication draws together the quarterly statistics for the year and analyses the longer-term trends.
Figures are derived from manual returns submitted by participating bodies, and cover timeliness of responses, outcomes of requests, and use of the appeal process.
Freedom of Information Act 2000 – Statistics on implementation in central government – 2011
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the associated Environmental Information Regulations 2004 came fully into force on 1 January 2005. This bulletin covers the quarterly period October to December 2011 and 2011 as a whole. It presents the latest quarterly set of National Statistics on their implementation within central government. This bulletin presents monitoring statistics for a total of 43 central government bodies, including all major departments of state. The statistics are designed to allow the monitored bodies to compare and monitor their performance in handling Freedom of Information requests, to inform the development of Freedom of Information policy across government, and for politicians, lobby groups, members of the public and others to hold the monitored bodies to account.
Number of FOI and EIR requests [see Tables 1 - 3]
The number of FOI (Freedom of Information Act) and EIR (Environmental Information Regulations) there has been considerable quarter-on-quarter variation, there has been a generally increasing trend in the number of requests received by the monitored bodies over the past four years.
The number of requests has grown rapidly between 2005 to 2011 – an average of 4% per year. This rise was driven in part by:
- a greater public perception over time of the FOI and its uses; and
- the ease with which members of the public can make requests has grown considerably for example the creation of dedicated websites allowing questions to be provided to monitored bodies.
Figure 1 shows that since an initial peak the number of requests received has increased for Departments of State with an upward trend since 2007. This is in contrast to other monitoring bodies volumes that have remained relatively stable at about 4,000 per quarter. The number of requests received by all the monitored bodies averaged almost 12,000 per quarter during 2011.
When comparing 2011 volumes with 2005, the six largest Departments, in terms of FOI volumes, accounted for 73 per cent of the rise in the number of requests.
Figure 1: Number of FOI/EIR requests received since the Act's introduction in January 2005
The initial surge in requests prior to the emerging trend is reflective of the introduction of the Act in 2005 with many monitored bodies including requests that were considered routine. For example, some bodies included simple phone call requests for pre-existing information.
In 2011 the monitored central government bodies received a total of 47,141 non-routine information requests a 7 per cent increase on the number received in 2010. Of these, 1,502 were handled under the amended EIRs also an increase of 7 per cent compared to 2010.
Timeliness of response to requests [see Tables 4, 5]
92 per cent of the requests during 2011 received a response within the statutory deadline or were subject to a permitted deadline extension, a slight increase on the 91 per cent in 2010.
When excluding those that received a permitted extension 87 per cent of all requests received a substantive response within the statutory working-day limit.
Figure 2 shows that since 2005 the propensity for a monitored body to use an extension has declined with ten percent of those meeting the deadline having used an extension in the initial year compared to less than five per cent for each of the last three years. However, this could be due to a change in the nature of requests.
Figure 2: Proportion of requests meeting statutory deadlines, 2005 - 2011
Initial outcomes of requests [see Tables 6 - 9]
Of all requests where it was possible to make a substantive decision on whether to release the information being sought received during 2011 just over half were granted in full.
Figure 3 shows the proportion of requests granted in full has slowly reduced since the act was introduced and this may reflect the changing nature of requests as the monitored bodies have made more routine information available to the public.
Figure 3: Initial outcomes as a percentage of those that are resolvable, 2005 - 2011
Exemptions and exceptions [see Table 10]
In 2011 there were 10,657 requests received which were refused, either in full or in part, where one or more exemption or exception was applied with the most commonly applied exemption, as in previous years, being under section 40 (where the information requested consists of personal data), which was applied to 4,779 requests.
Over the last four years, as shown in figure 4, the number of exemptions and exceptions applied has risen alongside the overall increase in requests seen by monitored bodies. The rise in exemptions and exceptions used and the number of requests having them applied has been larger than the corresponding rise in requests. This reflects the increasing number of resolvable requests that have been either partially or fully withheld.
Figure 4: Number of exemptions and exceptions used, 2005 - 2011
Public Interest Tests, Internal Reviews and appeals [see Tables 11 - 16]
A total of 2,114 Internal Reviews were requested across all monitored bodies in relation to information requests received in 2011, on the grounds that some or all of the requested information was withheld. Of the 1,914 Internal Reviews that had been completed in 2011 by the time the statistics were collected 63 per cent took 20 working days or less. Since 2005 the number of internal reviews as a proportion of all requests received has remained fairly steady between four and six per cent for Departments of States and around two percent for the other monitored bodies.
There were 1,943 requests received by monitored bodies in 2011 where a statutory extension was applied. Of these 1,710 had been processed in full, a 7 per cent rise compared to 2005, and in 2011 56 per cent had completed their consideration in 20 working days or less.
There were 350 appeals made to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) relating to the refusal of information requests by monitored bodies in 2011. For the last four years the number of appeals as a proportion of all internal reviews received has remained around 15 per cent for both Departments of State and other monitored bodies. As a proportion of all requests received they have remained below one per cent in every year except 2006 when it was just above.
The United Kingdom Statistics Authority has designated these statistics as National Statistics, in accordance with the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 and signifying compliance with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.
Designation can be broadly interpreted to mean that the statistics:
- meet identified user needs;
- are well explained and readily accessible;
- are produced according to sound methods, and
- are managed impartially and objectively in the public interest.
Once statistics have been designated as National Statistics it is a statutory requirement that the Code of Practice shall continue to be observed.
The Freedom of Information Act received Royal Assent on 30 November 2000. Under the Act, anybody may request information from a public authority which has functions in England, Wales and/or Northern Ireland. The Act confers two statutory rights on applicants:
- To be told whether or not the public authority holds that information; and if so,
- To have that information communicated to them.
These statutory rights came into force on 1 January 2005. The Ministry of Justice is the lead department responsible for the Freedom of Information Act.
The (amended) Environmental Information Regulations also came into force on 1 January 2005, to coincide with the Freedom of Information Act. They clarify and extend previous rights to environmental information held by public authorities.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is the lead department responsible for the Environmental Information Regulations.
In addition to Ministry of Justice professional and production staff, pre-release access to the quarterly statistics of up to 24 hours is granted to the following postholders:
Ministry of Justice: Secretary of State, Minister of State, Permanent Secretary, Information Director, Head of Information Policy Division, Head of FOI Policy and Strategy Unit, Head of Data Access and Compliance Unit, special advisers and the relevant press officer.
Other monitored bodies: The statistics are compiled with the assistance of freedom of information officers in each monitored body, although these officials do not have pre-release access to the final quarterly bulletin prior to publication.