Your MP may be contacted by constituents (or others) making official requests for information.
These requests will usually fall into two categories: requests for copies of information held about themselves, under the Data Protection Act, or requests for other information under the Freedom of Information Act.
Data Protection requests
Useful guidance on data protection can be found in the booklet entitled ‘Advice for Members and their staff Data Protection Act 1998: Personal information about constituents and others’ which can be found here: http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/advice-for-members-offices.pdf
This booklet contains good office practice suggestions to assist in complying with the Data Protection Act and explains, in detail, the three key obligations:
- Registering with the Information Commissioner’s Office
- Abiding by the data protection principles
- Allowing people to exercise their rights.
NB: the first obligation which must be complied with is registering with the Information Commissioner’s Office. This should be done as soon as possible. See the guidance booklet above for a guide on how to do this.
Freedom of Information requests
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) only applies to public authorities, and Members of Parliament are not public authorities for the purposes of FOIA, so your MP is not obliged to respond to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, for example asking how many constituents have contacted him or her on a certain issue. The Member can choose to provide information voluntarily if it is felt that it is reasonable and appropriate to do so. You may also refer the requester to a public authority that does hold the information.
The House of Commons and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) are both public authorities for the purposes of the FOIA. This applies to information that they hold in their own right about Members. However, it does not apply to information held by Members regarding their Parliamentary and constituency capacities which is stored physically or electronically at the House of Commons.
Further guidance on the rights of access under FOIA and DPA can be found in section 3 of the booklet referred to above.
For general information and guidance on Freedom of Information, Data Protection and Information Security, see:
- http://www.parliament.uk/site_information/foi.cfm(external web-pages)
- http://intranet.parliament.uk/offices-departments/iris/ (internal web-pages)
For further Data Protection guidance for Members, see:
- http://www.parliament.uk/site_information/foi/data_protection/commons_data_protection.cfm(external web-pages)
- http://intranet.parliament.uk/legal-advice/data-protection (internal web-pages)
Updated ES March 2013