Awareness of freedom of information (FOI) law in Scotland is at an all-time high, but less so among the under-35s, according to new figures released by the Scottish Information Commissioner.
A survey carried out this year found that none out of 10 (91%) Scottish adults had heard of FOI legislation, up from 85% in 2017 and 76% in 2009. However, only seven out of 10 (71%) understood that FOI gave them a right to ask for information from public bodies.
The results of the survey – released to mark International Right to Know Day tomorrow, 28 September – also show that older generations are more likely than young people to be aware of their FOI rights:
- 81% of those over 65 said they were aware of their rights, but this dropped to just over half (53%) for those under 35;
- 47% of those under 35 said they were “not very” or “not at all” aware of their FOI rights.
Under FOI law, public bodies must respond promptly to the requests for information they receive. Anyone can make a request, and the public bodies covered by the right include the Scottish Government, local authorities, NHS bodies, the police, universities and many others.
Scottish public authorities reported 42,044 requests for information made to them in the first six months of 2019, putting them on course to receive more requests this year than ever before. Just over 75% of these requests resulted in all or some of the information being released.
Most of those surveyed understood the general benefits, including that FOI helps people to be informed about public bodies’ decision-making, helps uncover bad practice, and holds public bodies to account for their spending decisions.
Daren Fitzhenry, Scottish Information Commissioner, commented: “It is encouraging that more Scots than ever are aware of the existence of freedom of information law. It is also clear to me that there is some work to do to ensure that people – particularly young people – understand their rights under FOI.
“Freedom of information helps people get involved in decisions that affect them. It also holds the public sector to account on the decisions they make and the money they spend.
“The message this Right to Know Day is simple: If you want to access public information, you have a right to know.”