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FOI Frequently Asked Questions

What information can be obtained under the Freedom of Information Act? The Freedom of Information Act allows potential access to all recorded informationheld by the University, subject to various exemptions that may be applied.

What information can be obtained under the Freedom of Information Act?

The Freedom of Information Act allows potential access to all recorded informationheld by the University, subject to various exemptions that may be applied.

Occasionally information may be requested that the University does not hold. If that is the case then obviously the University cannot provide it.

Requests may also be received to provide ‘opinions’ to questions that form part of the request. If the opinion is not recorded (i.e. in minutes of meetings, emails, etc) there is no requirement to provide information.

How are Freedom of Information requests made?

Requests can only be received in writing. This can be via fax, email, formal correspondence or hand written notes. Any request made over the phone or in person will not be accepted until it has been submitted in writing.

Valid requests must include a name, return address and a detailed description of the information required. In the case of emails, the email address can count as bother the name and the return address, even if the email address looks false, it should be treated as a valid request. 

Who deals with Freedom of information requests?

Freedom of Information requests are managed by the Records and Information Manager. Ideally requests will be received direct via a dedicated Freedom of Information email address or by post or fax. However, this might not always be the case as a written request can be received by any member of staff. In some cases it may not explicitly state ‘Freedom of Information’ in the text, but this doesn’t mean that it isn’t an FOI request. Request is for general information (copies of prospectus, library opening times, etc) are not treated as Freedom of Information requests, but requests for other information may be treated under FOI.

All Freedom of Information requests should be passed on to the Records and Information Manager who will co-ordinate the response with the relevant department or School. This can be done via:

  • Email: us.foi@northumbria.ac.uk
  • Fax: 227 4647
  • Or through internal mail to the Legal Services Team (please fax a copy before sending the original)

How long do we have to reply to a request?

The response must be sent out, 20 working days from receipt of the request, however, it is possible in some cases to request an extension in order to assess the public interest.

Who can make a Freedom of Information Request?

Anyone in the world can obtain information using the Act, including staff and students.

Does this mean someone can apply to see information relating to a student or a member of staff?

No. Personal Information relating to a living individual is protected from disclosure to third parties by the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). They may use the DPA to access their OWN information, but not information relating to others. See the Data Protection Section for guidance on accessing personal information.

Does this mean students can ask to see exam scripts?

Exam scripts are also classed as personal information and are therefore exempt from disclosure under FOI. They are also exempt from disclosure under DPA so the university is not obliged to provide copies to student if asked for them. The University will however provide students with copies of any comments written on the exam script. This does not mean that students can apply to see their comments before normal results publication dates. The university is obliged to provide such information within either 40 days after the publication of examination results or 5 months after the request has been received, whichever is earlier. The same time frames apply for students wishing to obtain their marks.

What about accessing exam papers before they sit the exam?

Exam papers are exempt from disclosure as they are “information intended for future publication”, i.e. on the date of the exam. The same rule applies for past exam papers as they are often repeated or at least a variant of the paper is used in future exams. It might in select cases be appropriate to release a past paper if the questions are not to be used again, but this would be dealt with on a case by case basis.

Does information held in emails count as recorded information?

Yes, information contained in emails can be obtained using FOI.

What if I know the individual making the request is out to cause trouble? Can I withhold the information?

The university is not permitted to question why someone is requesting the information, nor is it allowed to withhold information because we don’t want a certain individual to have it (this includes emails). The only reason for withholding information is if the requested information is subject to one of the predefined exemptions.

What about information that we might not want getting out to competitors i.e. strategies or course materials?

Again, if the information is exempt, there is no need to provide it. For instance, if disclosure of teaching material would damage the University’s commercial interests, it would not be disclosed, providing we can prove that that would be the case.

If no exemption is applied, disclosure is required.

Can the minutes of an examination board or an external examiners report be released?

Yes, both can be released in response to an FOI request, however, before they are released, they will need to be checked to ensure compliance with the Data Protection Act.

The Minutes of an examination board will likely cover the discussion of more than one student. As the DPA states that students are only entitled to information about themselves, the details of all other students will be removed (redacted) so that a student only receives their own information.

External examiners reports will also be made available upon request, but only if the contact details of the external examiner, or any other reference to individuals has been removed.

What are the differences between FOI and EIR?

FoI requests must be in writing. EIR allows applicants to request information orally – staff should try to write the request and contact details down to ensure that they have got the correct information.

FOI requests must be responded to no later than 20 working days from receipt of the request. EIR allows up to 40 days maximum.

FOI allows information to be withheld subject to a set of Exemptions. EIR allows for some exceptions if they are within the public interest

If you have any questions relating to Freedom of Information, please email them tous.foi@northumbria.ac.uk marked F.A.Q. 


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