How to get access to environmental information: The EIRs (2004)

The Environmental Information Regulations (EIRs) 2004 give the public access rights to environmental information held by public authorities. The regulations were introduced alongside the FoI Act in January 2005 and cover any data considered to be ‘environmental’ within its stated terms. Here are some key points to consider when requesting information through the EIRs.

Who is obliged to provide access to environmental information?

  • all public bodies covered by the FoI Act
  • bodies that carry out functions of public admin and bodies that are controlled by a public authority and have responsibilities, exercise functions or provide public services relating to the environment

(Defra provides a detailed guide of who is covered by the regulations.)

What information can you request?

  • the state of elements of the environment (e.g. air, water, soil)
  • factors affecting those elements (e.g. waste disposal, noise)
  • activities and measures that impact those elements (e.g. contracts, policies, legislation)
  • reports on the implementation of environmental legislation
  • cost-benefits and other economic analysis used within the framework of the above measures
  • the state of human health and safety (e.g. contamination of food chain, cultural sites and built structures)

What are the exemptions to access to environmental information?

  • Information is not held (the request should then be referred on)
  • The request is manifestly unreasonable
  • The request is too general
  • The request is for unfinished documents or data
  • The request is for internal communications

A public authority may also refuse to disclose information or withhold part of it in order to protect the following:

  • Confidentiality of proceedings
  • International relations/public security/defence
  • The course of justice and right to fair trial
  • Commercial confidentiality
  • Intellectual property rights
  • Personal / voluntary data
  • Environmental protection

Getting access to environmental information:

  • You can request access via the reception for citizens, press office, record registry or the specific department that deals with requests
  • Access can be requested verbally or in written form just like other FOI requests
  • Environmental information should be provided within 20 days after the body has informed you of the decision for providing access
  • The body should also tell you whether the information is already available or whether is will be processed to meet your request (including any potential cost)

What the body/officials CANNOT do:

  • Ask you what capacity you are working in
  • Ask you how you will use the information
  • Ask you whether you have a legal interest in the information

The ICO publishes further information for the public and for authorities on the regulations and this handy factsheet provides a quick guide to the EIRs and how to request information.

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