Frequently asked questions for staff Frequently asked questions for staff

Q. What is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)?
Q. Why it the Act important?
Q. Who is in charge of FOIA across the country?
Q. What's the difference between FOIA and the Data Protection Act (DPA)?
Q. I've heard of the EIR. How does that differ from the FOIA?
Q. Does FOIA apply to my work?
Q. Are staff emails subject to FOIA?
Q. Is my research subject to FOIA?
Q. Does FOIA apply to any University information, even if I am holding the information at home or on a personal device or filestore?
Q. Does FOIA apply only to recent information? Is there a date limit beyond which it no longer applies?
Q. Will all the information I hold be released if requested?
Q. Do I need to create information to answer a request?
Q. Is information on the web subject to the Act?
Q. Can anyone receive a request for information?
Q. Does a request have to mention the Freedom of Information Act?
Q. Can we accept requests from anyone outside the UK?
Q. Do we need to handle all queries as requests for information under the FOIA?
Q. Can I ask why the request is being made or who is making it?
Q. Are there any risks associated with ignoring a request or deleting information subject to a request?
Q. Is it safer if I don't delete any information?
Q. Can personal information be requested by FOIA?
Q. Is environmental information handled differently?
Q. What are FOIA exemptions?
Q. I've received a request for information. What should I do now?
Q. I've got concerns about the release of requested information. What can I do about this?
Q. Can I refuse to provide information to anyone writing to me?
Q. No one is available in my office to handle the request at the moment. Can we postpone its handling?
Q. I'll be away from the office for an extended period. Need I be concerned about any requests which I might receive in my absence, or can I pick them up on my return?
Q. I'm concerned about the accuracy or completeness of the information I hold which is subject to a request. Do I still need to release it, or can I rework it to make it better quality?
Q. I've accidentally released some information which I shouldn't have. What should I do?
Q. I represent an external business entering into a contract with the University. How might the University's responsibilities under FOIA affect me?
Q. Is any further information about FOIA available?
Q. What can people do with the information we release under FOI?

Q. What is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)?
A. The FOIA gives anyone in the world the right to request recorded information from publically funded authorities, and to receive a written response within a set period of time. The requested information may be withheld if any valid exemptions defined by the Act apply to that information. Public authorities are defined in the legislation and include central and local government, health services, police and fire services, and educational institutions including Universities.

Q. Why it the Act important?
A. The FOIA is the law and mandatory. Many countries have freedom of information laws. It is seen to increase transparency and accountability.

Q. Who is in charge of FOIA across the country?
A. The Information Commissioner's Office (www.ico.org.uk) is the regulator of the Act.

Q. What's the difference between FOIA and the Data Protection Act (DPA)?
A. These are two different pieces of legislation with many differences, but both concerned with access to information. FOIA allows anyone to request any recorded information held by the University. Responses are put in the public domain via our disclosure log. A provision under the DPA allows an individual to request information held about them by any organisation (not just public authorities). Such requests are known as Subject Access Requests. This information is provided direct to the individual making the request, and is not put in the public domain.

Q. I've heard of the EIR. How does that differ from the FOIA?
A. EIR is short for the Environmental Information Regulations. EIR provides access rights to information which are similar to FOIA, but only apply to environmental information. Indeed, requests for environmental information must be handled under EIR, and not FOIA.

Q. Does FOIA apply to my work?
A. Any recorded information held by the University, or on behalf of the University, is subject to the Act. Only work of relevance to the University is covered. It does not apply to personal information (e.g. shopping lists, personal hobbies, and so on) and work undertaken outside your contract of employment with the University, even if this personal information is held in/on University property.

Q. Are staff emails subject to FOIA?
A. Yes, if they are about your work.

Q. Is my research subject to FOIA?
A. Yes, but again there may be valid exemptions which support its non-release.

Q. Does FOIA apply to any University information, even if I am holding the information at home or on a personal device or filestore?
A. If the information is of use or interest to the University, and the University has control over the information (i.e. managed by any UEA member of staff), then, yes, it is considered to be held by the University and is covered by the Act. Just because it is held on a non-UEA device or system does not exclude it from the Act.

Q. Does FOIA apply only to recent information? Is there a date limit beyond which it no longer applies?
A. No. Any recorded information of any age held by the University is subject to the Act.

Q. Will all the information I hold be released if requested?
A. Yes, if there isn't an applicable exemption, it is subject to release.

Q. Do I need to create information to answer a request?
A. No. The FOIA is concerned with the release of held information. It does not provide a question and answer service. If we do not hold information which addresses the request, then we are not expected to go about creating it and releasing that.

Q. Is information on the web subject to the Act?
A. Yes, but as it is freely available to the public, it would not be handled formally as a request.

Q. Can anyone receive a request for information?
A. Yes. For a request to be valid for the purposes of the FOI Act, it must be in writing, legible, and include a contact address and name for the requester, and describe the information requested. Any member of staff (as being part of the University body) can receive a request.

Q. Does a request have to mention the Freedom of Information Act?
A. No, the request does not need to mention the Freedom of Information Act.

Q. Can we accept requests from anyone outside the UK?
A. Yes, a request can be received from anyone anywhere in the world.

Q. Do we need to handle all queries as requests for information under the FOIA?
A. If it is a request we would normally handle as business as usual or which refers to information freely available on our website, there isn't any need to process it as a formal FOIA request. We would just provide the requester with the information. Provided this response is provided within 20 working days, there is no need to invoke their rights of access provided under the FOIA.

Q. Can I ask why the request is being made or who is making it?
A. No, FOIA is motive and requester blind. Anyone can make a request for information, and they do not need to provide any explanation as to why they want the information or what they intend to do with it.

Q. Are there any risks associated with ignoring a request or deleting information subject to a request?
A. There is a legal requirement to provide a response to a request for information within 20 working days. Failure to do this can lead to public criticism of the organisation and a requirement to improve practices. Intentional deletion of information subject to a request is a criminal offence under the Act and can lead to a fine and a criminal record.

Q. Is it safer if I don't delete any information?
A. No, if you hold any information which is subject to a request, you will be advised by the University's central information compliance team to put your usual records retention procedures on hold just for that material. You should have processes in place to dispose of material which is no longer required in line with your department's records retention schedule and any requirements of external funders or regulatory bodies.

Q. Can personal information be requested by FOIA?
A. Any recorded information can be requested under FOIA, but remember that FOIA responses are published into the public domain, and we must also take privacy into account. There are specific exemptions in FOIA which can be applied to prohibit the release of personal information (that of the requester and of other third parties). Requests for one's own personal information are handled under the Data Protection Act.

Q. Is environmental information handled differently?
A. Yes, requests for environmental information are handled under the Environmental Information Regulations. The central information compliance team can advise on the appropriate legal regime which should be applied.

Q. What are FOIA exemptions?
A. There are twenty-three exemptions in the Act. They provide allowable reasons why the requested information might not be released. The response provided by the University will always state which exemptions apply, where they apply, and why they apply. The information compliance team can advise on which exemptions might apply.

Q. I've received a request for information. What should I do now?
A. Don't ignore it. Pass it on the information compliance team at foi@uea.ac.uk.

Q. I've got concerns about the release of requested information. What can I do about this?
A. You may not need to release the information. The central information compliance team can advise on which exemptions might apply. Information which may be exempted includes:

  • Personal information of any living individual
  • Information provided to us in confidence
  • Commercially-sensitive information
  • Information which will take too long to recover


Q. Can I refuse to provide information to anyone writing to me?
A. No, you cannot simply refuse to provide the information if it is a valid request. A response letter should be written which describes why we are not providing the information and citing the specific exemptions which we think applies to the information. To ensure the request is handled correctly under the law, pass it to the central information compliance team at foi@uea.ac.uk.

Q. No one is available in my office to handle the request at the moment. Can we postpone its handling?
A. No, there is a requirement to provide a response within 20 working days.

Q. I'll be away from the office for an extended period. Need I be concerned about any requests which I might receive in my absence, or can I pick them up on my return?
A. It is important that you put an out of office notice on your email account redirecting anyone with a request to a colleague who will be available or the central FOIA mailbox (foi@uea.ac.uk). Without this, the clock starts ticking on receipt of the email, and we may well be overtime before we have even started looking at it.

Q. I'm concerned about the accuracy or completeness of the information I hold which is subject to a request. Do I still need to release it, or can I rework it to make it better quality?
A. You should release the information which you hold. FOIA is concerned with the release of held information, even if that information is not accurate. However, you are welcome to add caveats to the response letter to help the requester understand the information they have received.

Q. I've accidentally released some information which I shouldn't have. What should I do?
A. Contact the central information compliance team at foi@uea.ac.uk as soon as possible. It is important to act promptly in recovering the information and prevent its further dissemination.

Q. I represent an external business entering into a contract with the University. How might the University's responsibilities under FOIA affect me?
A. All information held by the University is subject to the Act, as ownership is irrelevant. If you feel that some information you have provided is confidential or commercially sensitive, let us know. If we receive any requests for information which might affect the interests of third parties, we will always contact the third party seeking their comments to help us with the consideration of the application of exemptions.

Q. Is any further information about FOIA available?
A. Training courses on FOIA are available in the CSED brochure. There is a lot of guidance available from the ICO website at www.ico.org.uk.

Q. What can people do with the information we release under FOI?
A. When we provide information under FOI we remind requesters that any material released over which UEA has copyright is released subject to the understanding that they will comply with all relevant copyright rules regarding reproduction and/or transmission of the information released. If the requested information constitutes a dataset we will provide the information in a reusable format wherever possible, and the dataset will be licensed under the terms of one of three Government licences: The Open Government Licence, the Non-Commercial Government Licence or the Charged Licence.