Freedom of Information: Frequently Asked Questions
What is Freedom of Information?
The 2014 Freedom of Information Act is an Act of the Oireachtas effective in respect of access to HSE records from the 21st October 1998 and provides every person with the following legal rights:
- The right to access official records held by the FOI Bodies listed in the Act, e.g. the HSE and Local Authorities.
- The right to have personal information amended where such information is incomplete, incorrect or misleading; and
- The right to be given reasons for decisions taken by public bodies that affect them.
These rights mean that from 21st October 1998, members of the public may seek access to personal information held on them, no matter when the information was created, subject to certain exemptions designed to protect the public interest and the right to privacy
How does it work?
The Act requires public bodies to respond to requests from the public for information they hold. Public bodies must give their decision on a request within 20 working days of receiving it. Staff of Public Bodies must also assist members of the public seeking access to information.
How do I make a request under the Act?
- Put your request in writing.
- State what records you are seeking, supplying as much detail (i.e. service location, dates of treatment etc) as possible.
- State the manner in which access is sought e.g. inspect the originals, obtain photocopies, hear/view audiovisual record, obtain a copy of a computer disk or other electronic device etc.
- Supply proof of identity in the case of personal information.
Can other people gain access to my personal records?
No, only you can gain access to your personal records, unless you give your authorisation for someone else to access them on your behalf.
After my death who can access my personal records?
A deceased person’s records may be accessed by Next of Kin, Legal Personal Representatives and other persons identified in the Regulations SI 47 of 1999.
Can I get access to any information that I seek?
Access to any official information held by the HSE can be sought under the Act. However, in certain defined circumstances it will sometimes be necessary to exempt from release certain types of information. These exemptions are set out in the Act. Some key exemptions which may be used relate to:
- Personal information (other than information relating to the person making the request).
- Information supplied to the HSE in confidence.
- Law enforcement and Public Safety
- Commercially sensitive information
- Deliberations of Public Bodies
- Functions and Negotiations of Public Bodies.
While the HSE will seek to protect the privacy of individuals and information supplied in confidence, in certain circumstances it may be in the public interest to release such information.
Is there a charge for accessing information under the F.O.I. Act?
- There is no initial application fee under the Freedom of Information Act 2014 (14th of October 2014).
- Non-personal information: Search, retrieval and copying fees, these can only be charged in respect of records actually released.
- minimum threshold of €100 below which no search, retrieval and copying fees can be charged. Once the charge exceeds €100, full fees apply;
- a cap on the amount of search, retrieval and copying fees that can be charged of €500;
- a further upper limit on estimated search, retrieval and copying fees at €700 above which an FOI body can refuse to process a request, unless the requester is prepared to refine the request to bring the search, retrieval and copying fees below the limit;
- Internal review under Section 21 is €30 (€10 for medical card holders and their dependants)
- Appeals to the Information Commissioner under Section 22 is €50 (€15 for medical cardholders and their dependents).
What can I do if I am unhappy with a decision on my request, e.g. where access has been refused, deferred or only partially granted?
- You may appeal the decision to a HSE Internal Reviewer.
- You may appeal to the Information Commissioner against the decision of the HSE Internal Reviewer.
- You may appeal to the High Court on a point of law only.
How do I request an Internal Review?
If you are unhappy with the decision made on your F.O.I request you may appeal to the Internal Reviewer named in the Decision Letter within 4 weeks of the initial decision.
This review is independent of the initial Decision Maker’s decision. You will receive an acknowledgment from the Internal Reviewer of receipt of the review within 5 working days and a completed decision within 15 working days.
How do I request an External Review?
If you are unhappy with the Internal Reviewer’s decision you may appeal directly to the Information Commissioner where an independent review of the matter will be carried out. You must apply for an external review within six months of the internal review decision being made. The Information Commissioner will then examine firstly, how the application was handled in the HSE and secondly, the records involved in the request. The Information Commissioner has to make a decision on the appeal within 4 months.
The Commissioner can be contacted at :
Office of Information Commissioner
18 Lower Leeson Street,
Tel: 01 639 5689
Fax: 01 661 0570
Is it always necessary to make a FOI request to get information from public bodies?
No - You may be able to obtain the information you require by other means such as:
- By discussion with the relevant member of the HSE’s staff.
- By information leaflets, annual reports, etc. which the HSE publishes.
- By administrative access, i.e. by writing to the appropriate Officer of the HSE stating the information/record requested.
What information publications/leaflets are available?
As required by the Freedom of Information Acts 2014 the HSE has produced information leaflets on specific services provided to the public. These leaflets can be picked up at the HSE location providing the particular service.