Study finds awareness is high but confidence is dipping
Friday 25 October 2013
New research published by the Scottish Information Commissioner shows that while public awareness of FOI remains high in Scotland, there is a decline in the level of certainty people have over what their rights actually are. The study also found that the public agree, more strongly than ever before, that FOI is important in holding authorities to account for their spending decisions. While marginally more people were confident than not, it is telling that only 10% were very confident that authorities would respond to them on time.
Scottish Information Commissioner, Rosemary Agnew, said:
"It is not enough that the Scottish public know that they have a right to ask for, and to receive, information held by public authorities, they must also be confident that they will get everything they are entitled to in good time. We are proud of the success of the Scottish FOI regime but all of us in the public sector need to be telling people about their rights and how they can use them to understand and engage with us positively. And of course the best way for this to happen is for people to see their rights working in action.
"This is why this year we added a new question to our poll to assess public perceptions about the most basic provision in our FOI law: the duty to provide a prompt response to requests*. Our findings suggest that we still have a job to do to ensure the public sees FOI as a right that works effectively in practice." (* Authorities have a duty to respond to requests for information promptly and in no more than 20 working days.)
The findings, from an Ipsos MORI public opinion poll commissioned by the Scottish Information Commissioner, are available at the foot of this page. They indicate that:
- 78% of respondents indicated that they have definitely, or think they have, heard of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act. This compares favourably with the highest recorded level of public awareness (80%) in a similar poll in 2011. But there is a marked decline in the level of public certainty about those rights. In response to the same question, 60% of the public in 2013 had definitely heard of the Act, compared to the 67% of the public who answered positively in 2011.
- 93% (compared with 89% in 2011) of respondents agreed that it is important for the public to be able to access information held by public authorities.
- 91% of respondents agreed that FOI is important in holding public bodies to account for their spending decisions.
- 81% of respondents disagreed with the suggestion that FOI is a waste of public money, with only 13% agreeing.
- Only 10% of respondents were very confident that they would get an FOI response within 20 working days of making a request, and 12% were not confident at all.
There is continued strong support for FOI to be extended to cover additional organisations:
- 79% agree that housing associations should be subject to FOI
- 86% agree that trusts providing services on behalf of local authorities should be subject to FOI
- 76% agree that prisons run by the private sector should be subject to FOI
- 81% agree that private companies who build and maintain local authority schools and NHS hospitals, should be subject to FOI
Download the 2013 public awareness survey results:
Ipsos Mori Public Awareness Survey Results September 2013 (174KB)
Notes to editors:
For further information contact the Commissioner's Media Team on 01334 464610, out of hours on 07976 511752, or email email@example.com.
About the research
- The research was undertaken as part of Ipsos MORI's Scottish Public Opinion Monitor, a telephone survey of 1,001 members of the public. Fieldwork was undertaken in September 2013.
- Reports from previous waves of public awareness research are available from www.itspublicknowledge.info/research
About freedom of information
- The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (which came into force on 1st January 2005) provides individuals with a right to receive the information held by Scottish public authorities. The Act applies to the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government and the NHS in Scotland, as well as all of Scotland's police forces, local authorities and universities.
- Under FOI any written request for information must be responded to within 20 working days. Information can only be withheld where the FOI Act expressly permits it. Information can be withheld, for example, where its release would breach someone's right to privacy under data protection legislation, or where it would harm national security or an organisation's commercial interests. Even where an exemption applies, however, in many cases the Act also says that information must be released if it is in the public interest to do so.
- There is a three-step process to requesting information. This works as follows:
- The request stage. An individual writes to an authority to request information. In most cases, the information will be provided first time, and there will be no need to move on to the later stages. Where information is refused, however, there is a right of appeal.
- The review stage. The first stage of this right of appeal is to write to the authority asking it to review its handling of the original request. The authority has a further 20 working days to reconsider the request and respond.
- The application stage. An individual can appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner if they are still unhappy. On receipt of an appeal, the Commissioner will conduct a full investigation. If she finds that the authority has withheld information incorrectly, she can force the authority to release it. She may also uphold the authority's decision to withhold information.
About the Scottish Information Commissioner
- The Scottish Information Commissioner is a public official appointed by Her Majesty the Queen on the nomination of the Scottish Parliament.
- The Commissioner is responsible for promoting and enforcing Scotland's freedom of information laws.
- The Commissioner: investigates applications and issues legally enforceable decisions; promotes good practice amongst public authorities; and provides the pubic with information on their rights.
- The current Scottish Information Commissioner is Rosemary Agnew.
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