The new Freedom of Information Act came into force on 14th October 2014. This Act repealed the Freedom of Information Acts 1997 and 2003. The purpose of these Acts was to give people a right of access to records held by many public bodies including government departments, the HSE and local authorities.
The new Act extends the range of bodies to which the Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation applies to all public bodies, unless specifically exempt. The government can also prescribe other bodies which receive significant public funds to be governed by this legislation.
Essentially, under the Freedom of Information Act 2014, citizens have the following statutory rights;
- A legal right to access information held by a body covered by the FOI legislation.
- A legal right to have their official information amended where it is incomplete, incorrect or misleading.
- A legal right to obtain reasons for decisions affecting them.
The 2014 Act provides for a completely new FOI fees regime. No fees apply where the request involves access to your personal records. In respect of non-personal requests, the following fee structure applies;
¨ The €15 application fee has been abolished.
¨ There is a minimum threshold of €101 below which no search, retrieval and copying fees can be charged. Once the charge reaches €101, full fees apply.
¨ There is a cap on the amount of search, retrieval and copying fees that can be charged of €500.
¨ There is a further upper limit on estimated search, retrieval and copying fees at €700 above which an FOI body can refuse to process a request, unless the requester is prepared to refine the request to bring the search, retrieval and copying fees below the limit.
One of the key innovations of the legislation is that public bodies are required to pre-empt the need for FOI requests and prepare publication schemes. The purpose of such a scheme is to promote the proactive publication of information outside of FOI. The scheme should set out in a comprehensive way the information an organisation publishes on its website including details on the body’s role, responsibilities and activities.
Any action commenced under the Freedom of Information Act 1997 but not completed before the commencement of the 2014 Act will continue to be performed and completed as if the 1997 Act had not been repealed.
If you wish to make an application for information pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act 2014, you must make your request in writing to the FOI unit of the body and your application should refer to the Freedom of Information Act. If your application does not mention the Act, then it will be dealt with as an ordinary request for information. You should be as specific as possible to enable the organisation to identify the information you require. Furthermore, if possible, you should limit the time period for which you wish to access records. Under the Act, a request for information must be acknowledged within two weeks and in most cases responded to within four weeks. In reality, it can take much longer to receive a response if the Freedom of Information unit is short-staffed or if there is a backlog.
For more information on making an FOI application, you can visit the Freedom of Information website www.foi.gov.ie.