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Freedom of information datasets

Datasets are routinely disclosed by us under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). However, prior to 1 September 2013 there was no requirement under the Act for us to provide these in a specific format or to permit reuse.

Section 102 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 added new provisions to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) regarding datasets. These provisions came into effect on 1 September 2013 and relate to how information is disclosed rather than what information is disclosed.  The provisions mean that where possible we should provide datasets in a reusable form and under licensing conditions that permit reuse.

Provision of datasets in reusable format

The provisions mean that if a public authority is providing information under FOIA that constitutes a dataset, they must, where reasonably practicable, provide a copy of that dataset in a reusable form.

The term dataset means a collection of factual information in electronic form (for example statistics or figures) that has not been materially altered since it was recorded. To be a dataset, the information must not have been the product of analysis or interpretation (it must be the 'raw data').

There is no duty to provide information that was not previously accessible under the FOIA, and it may be that exemptions to disclosure still apply. The duty only relates to the provision of datasets in a reusable format.  A reusable format is one that is machine readable (in a structured format such as a spreadsheet), and is based on open standards.

Reasonably practicable?

There is no definition of what is classed as reasonably practicable, and no cost limit. Factors that public authorities can take into consideration when deciding whether it is reasonably practicable to provide the dataset in a reusable format include:

  • time and cost of converting the data to a reusable format
  • technical issues 
  • resources of the public authority

If a public authority  decides that it would not be reasonably practicable to provide the dataset in a reusable format, the requester can ask the authority for an internal review of the decision. If the outcome is upheld at internal review, the requester can then complain to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) (details at the bottom of the page).

Licensing and reuse

If the dataset is a relevant copyright work, public authorities must provide it under the terms of a specified license. A relevant copyright work is one that a public authority  owns the copyright and database right, and it is not a Crown or Parliamentary copyright work. We cannot license the reuse of a dataset or part of a dataset if it is not the copyright owner.

Public authorities must disclose their own copyrighted datasets with a license for them to be reused. Where the only copyright holder is the public authority, The Open Government License is the recommended license that will allow datasets to be reused without charge, and allows both commercial and non commercial reuse.

Where there is no copyright on a dataset, the public authority should inform the requester that there are no restrictions on reuse.

Fees

We may charge a fee for communicating the information and a fee for making a copyright dataset available for reuse. A fee must not exceed the cost of collection, production, reproduction and dissemination of the relevant copyright work, plus a reasonable return on the investment. There is no set fee.  If we can make a charge for reuse of a copyright dataset under another piece of legislation, it cannot charge under the amended FOIA provisions.

For more information about the Freedom of Information Act, datasets and charging,see the Information Commissioner's Office or contact:

The Information Commissioner's Office

Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
Cheshire
SK9 5AF

Tel: 0303 123 1113

E-mail casework@ico.gov.uk