Division of General Counsel, Governance and Compliance

Frequently Asked Questions

FoI logoThe Governance Office has produced the following Frequently Asked Questions to assist in the understanding of the Freedom of Informatiion Act 2000.


What is the Freedom of Information Act?

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 is a law that: gives everyone a general right of access to information held by the University, e.g. in paper and electronic files, emails, audio and video recordings, photographs and brochures.

What information is available?

From 1 January 2005 any information held by a public authority has been eligible for release to members of the public, except where one of the exemptions outlined in the Freedom of Information Act applies. Many of these are qualified exemptions which means that the 'public interest test' must be applied when considering whether to release information. More information about exemptions can be found here or on the Information Commissioner's Office website. Whenever an exemption is applied in a response, a guidance note will also be provided.

What are the University's obligations under the Act?

The University is required: to adopt and maintain a 'publication scheme'; to 'provide advice and assistance' to people who have or propose to make requests for information; and to provide individuals with a 'general right of access', on written request, to information held by the University and to do this 'promptly and in any even not later than the twentieth working day following the date of receipt' of the request. Unless an exemption applies under the terms of the Act there are two aspects to this general right of access: the right to be told whether or not the University holds the information; and, if that is the case, to have the information communicated to them.

How does the Act affect me?

As an individual you are entitled to access information from public authorities, including the University of Sussex. Employees of the University need to be aware of the Act and should be prepared to act quickly if they receive a request for information. Staff should also be aware that all University records, including the records they keep, are potentially open to scrutiny by the public.

Are all requests for information FOI requests?

Technically all written requests for information (including email requests for information) received since 1 January 2005 may be classified as Freedom of Information requests. The request must state the name of the applicant, an address (including email address) for correspondence and describe the information requested.

Where can I find out more about FOI exemptions?

The Information Officer has produced a simple guide to the exemptions. Determining whether an exemption may apply in specific cases is a complex legal area and University staff should consult the Information Officer for guidance (foi@sussex.ac.uk). More information about exemptions can be found here or on the Information Commissioner's Office website. Whenever an exemption is applied in a response, a guidance note will also be provided.

What is the 'public interest test'?

The public interest test provides that a public authority must release information unless, 'in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information'. This requires the authority to make a judgement about the public interest. The Information Commissioner has identified the following factors that favour the disclosure of information:

  • Furthering the understanding of and participation in the public debate issues of the day;
  • Promoting accountability and transparency by public authorities for decisions taken by them;
  • Promoting accountability and transparency in the spending of public money;
  • Allowing individuals to understand decisions made by public authorities affecting their lives and, in some cases, assisting individuals in challenging those decisions;
  • Bringing to light information affecting public safety.