The Regulations Explained
The Environmental Information Regulations (EIR's) allow applicants to request environmental information from public authorities, for example the Environment Agency, privatised utility companies and Local Authorities.
Local Authorities have a duty under the Regulations to provide advice and assistance to all applicants. This duty is enforceable by the Information Commissioner.
A request can be verbal or written, electronic or hardcopy.
A request must usually be answered within 20 working days of receipt. This time period can be extended to 40 working days if the request is complex or voluminous.
If a public authority receives a request which they believe is too general, the authority will contact the applicant as soon as possible, but within the 20 days timescale, to try to understand specifically what information it is that they would like.
When making a request for information an applicant may state a preference as to the form/format in which they would like the information to be provided e.g. hardcopy/electronic etc.
Public authorities may charge a reasonable fee for disclosing information and the fees charged by us are explained in this guide. However an authority cannot charge an applicant to inspect the information in the location in which it is held. Also public registers and lists such as the Register of Radioactive Substances, Contaminated Land Register etc., are already available free of charge.
Inevitably there is information which if released would result in adverse consequences, for example the nesting location of a rare bird species. To prevent such an event happening, the EIR's contain a number of exceptions that would allow public authorities to withhold that information.
Applicants should be aware that the information disclosed under the EIR's might be subject to copyright protection. If an applicant wishes to use any such information in a way that would infringe copyright, for example by making multiple copies or issuing copies to the public, the applicant would require a licence from the copyright holder.
HMSO have issued guidance about copyright which is available on their website.
If a public authority refuses to disclose all or part of the information requested, that authority must state, in writing, what exception the information falls under and justify their decision that the exception should be applied. The authority will also inform the applicant that they have a right to appeal the decision, initially to the authority itself then, if they remain dissatisfied, to the Information Commissioner's Office.