Any request for information held by/on behalf of a public authority is initially treated as a Freedom of Information request.
However, section 39 of the Freedom of Information Act exempts environmental information from being dealt with under freedom of information and provides for it to be dealt with under the Environment Information Regulations (EIR) 2004.
This means that there may be cases where information is exempt under freedom of information but has to be released under these regulations.
The regulations are very similar to the Freedom of Information Act and requests for environmental information are dealt with in a similar way to those for other information.
The key differences between EIR and the Freedom of Information Act are:
- a wider range of organisations are covered by the EIR, including some private organisations
- the EIR relates to environmental information only
- requests for information do not have to be in writing under the EIR; they can be verbal
- all exemptions for refusing an EIR request are subject to a public interest test
Personal information of the applicant continues to be dealt with under data protection.
Records management considerations
As with the Freedom of Information Act the organisation needs a robust records management programme.
The requirements of the two pieces of legislation are similar so it is advised that organisations deal with EIR requests in a like manner.
The main difference is that requests for environmental information need not be in writing.