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The Freedom of Information Officer’s Handbook is here

Copies of FOI Officer's HandbookFOIMan announces the publication of his new book designed to assist FOI Officers and anyone else to better understand FOI.

I’m proud to announce the publication of my new book, The Freedom of Information Officer’s Handbook. Formally released by Facet Publishing on 3 January 2019, it is now available to purchase from online retailers, or from the publisher direct (see the end of this post for details of how to obtain a discount on the cover price as a reader of this blog).

Elizabeth Barber, chair of the Public Sector Group of the Information and Records Management Society, describes the Handbook as:

a practical guide which takes the reader on a journey through the intricacies of dealing with FOI…It contains everything you ever wanted to know about FOI and in a really easy to read format.

Whilst Jonathan Baines, well-known commentator on information rights and Data Protection Adviser at Mishcon de Reya, welcomed:

the first book which really meets the needs of and challenges facing FOI practitioners.

The book is intended as a practical guide to FOI for those who administer freedom of information and transparency requirements. However, anyone with an interest in FOI – as a requester, from an academic perspective, or otherwise – will, I hope, find the Handbook a valuable tool in better understanding FOI’s requirements and its practical implementation. The book is focussed on the UK experience of FOI, but contains extensive coverage of similar laws elsewhere and highlights the key differences between different FOI laws. As Elizabeth Barber comments, “[t]he book can be used either as a cover-to-cover read for those who are new to FoI or as a dip-in reference resource for those who are more experienced.”

The Freedom of Information Officer’s Handbook is divided into three sections:

  • Understanding the Act – looking at the history of FOI, its geographical spread, how to interpret the UK’s FOI Act including a whole chapter dedicated to the exemptions, and a guide to other sources of help
  • FOI in Context – with chapters on the Environmental Information Regulations, data protection and GDPR, records management and public records laws, transparency requirements (including open data) and copyright
  • FOI in Practice – exploring the role of the FOI Officer, what infrastructure is needed to support compliance, the stages of handling a request, how to communicate effectively with applicants and a guide to conducting internal reviews and the role of the Information Commissioner.

One copy of the FOI Officer's HandbookFor me, the release of the Handbook on 3 January 2019 marked the culmination of almost two years of hard work, and I’m extremely proud of the finished product. I hope readers will indulge me talking about it over the next few months – as anyone who has written a book will testify, it involves a huge commitment of time and effort. As an author, I’d obviously like as many people as possible to read what I’ve created.

In addition though, I wrote this book because I felt that there wasn’t enough support (or credit) given to FOI practitioners. So I hope that at least a few FOI Officers will gain some confidence from the content of the Handbook. And if anyone else reads it, that they will have more respect for, and understanding of, the people who do their best to make FOI work in practice.

More details about The Freedom of Information Officer’s Handbook, including a full list of the contents, can be found on the Facet Publishing website. You can also read Elizabeth Barber’s and Jonathan Baines’s opinions of the book in full there.


If you would like to obtain a copy of The Freedom of Information Officer’s Handbook, you can get a 30% discount on the RRP of £64.95 (purchasing it for £45.45) by emailing info(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)facetpublishing.co.uk, quoting the code FOIBLOG30. Do not supply payment card or bank account details by email. The publisher’s distributor will then contact you to arrange payment and discuss where to send your copy.

FOI in English Local Authorities in 2016

FOIMan summarises the results of research into the numbers of FOI requests that local authorities in England received in 2016.

The new s.45 code of practice requires all public authorities to publish data on their FOI performance, but that hasn’t always been required. Outside of central government, the availability of reliable data on FOI request volumes is patchy to say the least.

Local government is reputed to receive the most FOI requests of all public authorities. Between 2005 and 2011, the Constitution Unit at UCL carried out valuable research into FOI in local government, including request volumes. The reports on their research can be found on the UCL website.

Since the 2011 report (on 2010), there hasn’t been any comprehensive data available on FOI volumes in local government in England (to my knowledge). As regular readers will know, I conducted some research into FOI in local government as part of the preparation for my book The Freedom of Information Officer’s Handbook. In Autumn 2017, I wrote to a sample of councils across the country and asked them a number of questions. Amongst those questions I asked for the number of requests received in 2016 and the number of those requests answered in 20 working days.

In my latest article for the Freedom of Information Journal I have reported on the results of these questions, and compared them to UCL’s research to examine the trends in council request volumes. It will come as no surprise to learn that request volumes appear to have continued to rise over that period.

If you want to read more about the outcomes of my research, other aspects (including how requests are managed and how performance is monitored) are explored in detail in The Freedom of Information Officer’s Handbook which will be published at the beginning of January 2019 by Facet Publishing. Details of how to order a copy at a discount can be found at the top of the sidebar opposite.

FOI and diaries – long read

FOIMan’s latest article for PDP’s Freedom of Information Journal explores how requests for diaries of public officials should be handled.

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about FOI and diaries in response to an article in the Guardian. Coincidentally I had just written a piece for PDP on the same subject and I promised to publish it here when it was published.

As promised then, here is my latest piece for PDP’s Freedom of Information Journal, on FOI and diaries.

Copyright and FOIA

FOIMan writes about the relationship between copyright and freedom of information.

Practitioners and others often get confused about the way that copyright interacts with FOI. In this piece for the Freedom of Information Journal, I attempt to provide some clarity. In summary, whilst public authorities retain copyright in much of the information that they disclose, it will often be difficult for them to prevent requesters and others from re-using disclosed data.

Back to the FOIA: FOI, historical records and archives

FOIMan writes about the relationship between FOI and the past.

Way back before I got involved with FOI, I started my career as an archivist. In my latest article for the Freedom of Information Journal, I’ve written about the complex relationship between FOI, historical records and archives. Both archives and FOI provide means to hold public authorities to account. So how do they interact – and is FOI damaging archives?

You can find out by reading the article here.