A student raises her hand to ask a question

In this section:

  • General Questions
  • Questions about the Publication Scheme
  • Questions about other requests for Information
  • Records management
  • Information for website owners
  • Further Information

General

What is the Freedom of Information Act?

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) will be brought fully into force, across the public sector, on 1 January 2005. The Act includes a number of obligations for public authorities, including the College for the purposes of this Act, and extends the public's rights of access to information. For the College, this means that, from that date, members of the public will have a statutory right to request (with some minor limitations) any information held by the College, regardless of when it was created, by whom, or the form in which it is now recorded.

The obligations upon the College within the Act can loosly be divided into two parts:

The College is required to have a Publication Scheme which sets out the information it is committing to make publically available. The College's Publication becomes "live" on 29 February 2004.

The second part of the Act means that from January 2005 the public, including other corporate bodies, will have the right to make a request for any other information not already published under the Publication Scheme.

Who should I contact for more information?

Each department or division has appointed a Records Manager who should be the first point of contact for staff seeking advice. After this please contact the Central Secretariat team.

Publication Scheme

What is a Publication Scheme and when does it come into effect?

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the College must produce a publication scheme as a guide to the information the College has committed itself to publishing. Its purpose is to ensure that the College, classed as a Public Authority for this Act, makes as much information as possible publicly available. The Publication Scheme itself will take effect from 29 February 2004, by which date the College must have made available (either on its website or in some other form) all the information included on its approved Publication Scheme.

What information are departments expected to publish under the Publication Scheme?

Under the College's Publication Scheme each academic department or division is being expected to publish the following information:

  • Description of the department's work and nature
  • Management Structure
  • Staff/student liasion committees
  • Course structure and details
  • Departmental Contact Information
  • Departmental course brochures

This is the minimum that is required to be published and it is very likely that departments were doing this before the Act came into force. However, it does not stop more information being made available!

Are people able to access information that is not covered in the Publication Scheme?

Yes. Under the second part of the act from January 1st 2005 any individual is entitled to contact the College and request access to information it holds.

Where can I access the College's Publication Scheme?

The College's Publication Scheme is online and can also be obtained by contacting the College's Publication Scheme Co-ordinator.

How is information in the Publication Scheme made available and is it free?

The Publication Scheme explains this in detail. In general the College intends to publish as much information as possible of its website and so make it available free of charge. Where information is only availabe in hard copy it can be obtained on application, usually with an associated cost.

What is the Information Compendium?

The College has created an Information Compendium to assist both internal and external individuals in understanding how the College is managed and the information it makes publically available as part of its Publication Scheme. The Information Compendium is a database of basic information on most of the College's organisational units, committees and functions and also provides links to further informationa and specific publications.

Requests for information

How does someone make a request for information?

A request for information can be made to any member of the College but must be made in writing (including e-mail).

As a member of staff how do I know if someone is making a request under the Act?

All requests that specifically mention the Freedom of Information Act must be forwarded to the Central Secretariat along with a copy to the Departmental/Divisional Record Manager. This is to ensure that all requests for information are dealt with in accordance with the Act and the timeframe for responding to requests. If the requests does not mention the Act but the member of staff is unsure or unwilling to answer the request then they should also contact the Central Secretariat.

The College's Code of Practice on Responding to requests contains a flow chart giving simple steps that a member of staff can follow.

How does the College respond to these requests?

The College has produced a Code of Practice that details how it will respond to requests and assist an applicant.

Is any information exempt from the Act?

There are many exemptions that can apply to information. However, the starting point for considering any request is that the information should be released if possible. A full list of exemptions can be found at the bottom of this document but those most relevant to the College are:

  • Information accessible via another means;
  • Personal Information (ie. Information covered by the Data Protection Act);
  • Information provided in confidence;
  • information intended for future publication;
  • inhibit the free and frank exchange of views or otherwise prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs;
  • health and safety;
  • legal professional privilege; and
  • commercial interests.

Can people complain if information is not released?

Yes. Initially all complaints should be dealt with by following the College's Complaints Procedure as set out in its Code of Practice (see the section on Requests for information). However, if the applicant feels they still have a complaint then they can pursue it with the Information Commissioner.

What about information concerning animal research?

Records management

Where can I find out more about how Imperial manages their records?

Please see the Corporate Records Unit Section of the site for further information on Records Management.

Information for website owners

What should I keep internal only?


In principle, you should try to make everything publicly available. The main exceptions which are relevant to the College are:

  • personal information (ie information covered by the Data Protection Act);
  • information provided in confidence;
  • information intended for future publication;
  • information which would inhibit the free and frank exchange of views or otherwise prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs;
  • health and safety information;
  • legal professional privilege; and
  • commercial interests.

Personal contact details (including College extension numbers and email addresses) should not be included on externally available web pages unless the individuals involved have given their consent. Most staff will have given their consent for basic personal details to be published during the College Directory Project.

Are there any guidelines as to whether things like departmental minutes, local procedures etc should be open to external access, restricted to people with a College login, or restricted to access by a named group only?

In some cases, it may be better not to include some information on your website. We would like to adopt a consistent approach as a College to these items. Please email us with your specific enquiries, and we will develop a set of guidelines to be published on this site.

Should I put Teaching and Learning materials on my website?

We need to ensure that we are making teaching and learning materials available to our students without giving away College intellectual property. The Teaching and Learning web sub-group is considering this issue, and we will publish guidance once they have given their recommendations.

How does the Freedom of Information Act fit in with plans to introduce a web Content Management System (CMS)?

The introduction of CMS will mean that the College adopts a "single site" model. This will mean that faculties, departments, divisions etc publish all of their web content in one content architecture, using the Content Management System and other web technologies so that users only see what they are authorised to see. Thus "internal only" content may still be published with restricted access for sensitive material.

Further information

Who can I get in touch with for further information?

For further information please contact the College's Publication Scheme Co-ordinator:

Level 4
Faculty Building
Imperial College London
Exhibition Road
London
SW7 2AZ

e-mail: Freedom of Information Office

Alternatively the following links may be of use, all external to the College:

Information Commissioner's Office
Freedom of Information Act - Full Act
JISC Freedom of Information Mail List Archives

Exemptions

Absolute Exemptions

If an absolute exemption applies, there will be no duty to consider the public interest test. If the exemption applies, the information requested need not be disclosed and, in many cases, there is no obligation to comply with the duty to confirm or deny if the College holds the information.

  1. information that is accessible to the applicant by other means (e.g. information in the Publication Scheme or available from another Public Authority)
  2. information supplied by or relating to bodies dealing with the security services;
  3. information relating to court records;
  4. parliamentary privilege;
  5. prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs in so far as it relates to information held by the House of Commons or the House of Lords;
  6. personal information (this will apply to information about staff);
  7. information provided in confidence (note that this applies only to disclosure of information that would constitute a breach of confidence actionable by any person, i.e. a breach of contract and will not apply to all documents marked "confidential"); and
  8. information prohibited from disclosure.

Qualified Exemptions

If a qualified exemption applies, the Act will require the College to consider first whether or not the exemption applies and, secondly, if the exemption does apply, the public interest test. Only where the public interest in maintaining the confidentiality of the information outweighs the public interest in communicating information or confirming or denying that the College has such information, can the College rely on a qualified exemption.

  1. information intended for future publication;
  2. historical records held in Public Records Offices;
  3. national security;
  4. defence;
  5. international relations;
  6. relations with the UK;
  7. the economy;
  8. investigations and proceedings conducted by a public authority;
  9. law enforcement;
  10. audit functions;
  11. formulation of government policy;
  12. inhibit the free and frank exchange of views or otherwise prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs;
  13. communications with Her Majesty / Honours;
  14. health and safety;
  15. environmental information;
  16. personal information;
  17. legal professional privilege; and
  18. commercial interests.