Frequently asked questions

What is freedom of information?

It is new legislation which gives you, the public, a general right of access to all types of recorded information held by public authorities such as Devon County Council. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 allows people to see how public bodies work and encourages active participation in the process.

What is the Act designed to do?

It is designed to:

  • encourage greater openness and accountability in public authorities
  • help increase levels of public trust
  • encourage improvements in our interaction with the public.

The ‘spirit’ of the Act is of full disclosure although there are some exemptions applicable where certain information need not be released.

Who can request information under the Act?

Since January 1 2005 anyone has been able to, whatever their age, nationality, location or reason.

What type of information is available?

As a general rule, you are entitled to request any information created within the Council or received from elsewhere and held by us. There are too many examples to list here but may include:

  • agendas and minutes
  • policies
  • reports
  • expenditure
  • strategies
  • records procedures
  • service provision
  • quality standards against targets.

How can I access information held by the Council?

The Council already has a policy of making general information available on request. This policy will continue. The Freedom of Information Act provides additional methods by which you can obtain information from the Council. These are:

A. The Publication Scheme

Under the Act, The Council is required to produce and maintain a Publication Scheme. This scheme is a database which lists the publications, documents and information that the Council makes publicly available. It sets out:

  • what information the Council publishes
  • how and when it publishes information.

Each entry describes how the information is available. You access this scheme through the Council’s on-line Publication Scheme. If you are unable to access the Publication Scheme electronically, there is a paper version available. For a copy of this, please contact the Freedom of Information Office at the address below.

B. Individual Access Request

If the information you want is not available through the Publication Scheme, you may submit a Freedom of Information request to the Council to obtain it subject to some exemptions.

How do I submit a freedom of information request?

The FOI Act requires these requests to be made in writing , including email , and the Council will ensure help is available to do this if needed. Your written request must:

  • state clearly what information is required
  • state the name of the applicant
  • state an address for correspondence.

Please provide as much detail as possible as this will greatly assist us in searching for the information you have requested. For example, any dates or the names of council officers which may be relevant. For more details visit our make a request pages.

What happens if I submit a request?

If you submit a request, under the Act, the Council is legally required to inform you:

  • whether or not the information is held at Devon County Council
  • whether or not the information is subject to any exemptions
  • provide the information request within 20 working days.

The Council will use the information contained in your request to respond appropriately and as quickly as possible. Your request will be acknowledged in writing. We may also contact you if any clarification of your request is a copy.

Will I have to pay anything?

Documents that can be identified and obtained via our Publication Scheme will either be available free of charge or with a fee. The scheme will indicate if there is a fee.

There may also be a fee for providing information not in the Publication Scheme. Devon County Council has a policy of  open and fair access to information and will usually waive any charges in normal circumstances.

If your request is complex or you are asking for a large amount of information there may be a charge but you will be informed of the details and either given time to pay or an opportunity to discuss changing your request.

Can I request personal information held by the Council about me?

If you wish to obtain personal information held by the Council about you, you are entitled to do so under the Data Protection Act, 1998. For further information about accessing personal information visit our accessing your personal data pages.

What if I’m not satisfied with the actions of the council regarding my request?

If you are unhappy with the way your request was handled your request, or if you are dissatisfied with the response you have received, you may make a complaint to the Council. For more information visit our access to information complaints pages.

If you are still unhappy with your request was handled by the Council, please contact the Information Commissioner’s Office at:

The Information Commissioner’s Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Tel: 01625 545700

Tracing your relatives

At Devon County Council we often get requests asking us to help trace living relatives.

Unfortunately we are unable to help, even if we do know if the person is in Devon.

This is because we have a duty to protect an individual’s information, under the Data Protection Act 1998.

We have produced some short guidance for people looking to trace their relatives.