Wheels for Wellbeing guide to Making Freedom of Information Requests

Introduction

At Wheels for Wellbeing we’re releasing a series of guidance sheets for individuals interested in active travel, local authorities, NGOs, other organisations involved in decisions about walking, wheeling and cycling schemes. These guidance sheets help explain the reasoning behind different aspects of accessible design.

Our guidance sheets are aligned with our Guide to Inclusive Cycling (5th edition due early 2024). They may be printed, electronically distributed or quoted provided credit is given to Wheels for Wellbeing.

Download the Guide to Freedom of Information Requests as a Word document

Download the Guide to Freedom of Information Requests as a pdf

What is an FOI Request?

Under the Freedom of Information Act (2000), you have the right to ask for and receive information from public bodies on a whole range of topics.

A Freedom of Information Request is a letter – which can be electronic – where you say you’re making a Freedom of Information Request and ask the public body for the information you want.

When to use an FOI Request

You may wish to use a FOI request to gather information to challenge a local authority decision, or to support a demand for better cycling infrastructure. Here are some suggestions:

  • Please provide me with a copy of the Equality Impact Assessment made prior to [installing a piece of infrastructure, new traffic restrictions, removal of a piece of infrastructure …]
  • How many complaints have been made regarding [traffic congestion, traffic speeds, anti-social motorcycle use, anti-social cycling in pedestrian area …]
  • Who is responsible for the upkeep of [specific cycle lanes, infrastructure …]
  • What research or modelling has been undertaken to inform decisions on [cycling/wheeling/walking improvements, traffic management …]
  • Were any Disability organisations, advisory groups, or similar contacted before the decision to [add a barrier, change a road layout …]
  • What measures will be taken to ensure that [cycling scheme, cycle training, new facilities …] will be accessible to Disabled people? What steps will be taken to enable and encourage its use by underrepresented groups?
  • Please provide me with the [consultation report, executive summary, survey data …] for the [cycling scheme, Low Traffic Neighbourhood consultation, road layout changes …]
  • Please provide me with the [length of segregated cycles, length of advisory cycleways, length of roadways with no cycling provision …] in [local authority area, borough …].

The most effective FOI requests are short and precise: They ask a local authority/public body for specific pieces of information which the authority have easy access to and which are not easily available from other sources, such as a council website.

How to Make an FOI Request

What Do They Know is an extremely helpful website for submitting FOI requests and allows you to submit a FOI request to the relevant authority. There is plenty of detailed guidance in their Help section on making requests and on what information public bodies do not have to provide.

You can also submit an FOI request by writing or emailing directly to the relevant public body.

Writing the Letter

The Runnymede Trust have a template letter that you can download here (shown on this page).

Extra Tips for your FOI

To ensure that your request is not simply ignored if you have sent it to the wrong authority, or if the request is too unclear, you may wish to include the following wording:

“If this request is too wide or unclear, I would be grateful if you could contact me as I understand that under the Act, you are required to advise and assist requesters. If any of this information is already in the public domain, please can you direct me to it, with page references and URLs if necessary.”

Don’t forget to specify if you need the information in a certain format, e.g. Large Print, e-reader compatible, audio file.

Using your FOI Response

Making a FOI request and, hopefully, getting the requested information is the first step. FOI requests are only a useful tool if the information is then used:

For example, you could discover that minimal steps have been taken to ensure that a new scheme to promote cycling considers the needs of Disabled cyclists, and use that information to ask the council to amend the scheme before it is rolled out.

Freedom of information requests can be combined with taking action against discriminatory barriers under the Equality Act

References/Further reading/Resources:

  1. Freedom of Information Act (2000))
  2. LTN 1/20 Cycle infrastructure design
  3. Wheels for Wellbeing Guide to Inclusive Cycling (4th edition, 2020)
  4. Taking Action against Discriminatory Barriers (resources and webinar link)
  5. Wheels for Wellbeing guidance sheets (2023 onwards)

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