Introducing the Freedom of Information Acts

On 1 January 2005, the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000 and the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 came into force. As from that date, any person of any nationality has been able to make a request to see information held by public authorities. The public authority must provide the information requested, except where it falls under any of the exemptions written into the legislation.

FOI Status of the Royal Household

The Royal Household is not a public authority within the meaning of the FOI Acts, and is therefore exempt from their provisions.

Despite its exemption from the FOI Acts, the Royal Household's policy is to provide information as freely as possible in other areas, and to account openly for its use of public money. For example, full details of public funding of the Head of State have been provided since 2001; annual financial reports covering the arrangements under the Sovereign Grant will be posted online in June of each year.

Information held by public authorities relating to The Queen and members of the Royal Family

Many public authorities will hold information relating to Members of the Royal Family's or Royal Household's activities and functions. The specific Royal Household exemption contained in the FOI Acts is not concerned with all information relating to The Queen, other Members of the Royal Family, or the Royal Household; it is concerned more narrowly with information relating to communications with The Queen, other Members of the Royal Family or the Royal Household.

Section 37 of the FOI Act provides an absolute (i.e. no need for a public interest test) exemption for information relating to communications with and on behalf of the Sovereign, the Heir to the Throne and the second in line to the Throne, but the exemption is qualified (i.e. subject to consideration of the public interest test) for information relating to communications with or on behalf of other Members of the Royal Family or members of the Royal Household. The lifespan of the exemption is 20 years from the creation of the record or five years from the death of the Member of the Royal Family to whom the information relates, whichever is longer.

Section 41 of the Scottish FOI Act provides a qualified exemption for information relating to communications with The Queen, other Members of the Royal Family or Royal Household. The application of this exemption, as with other qualified exemptions, is subject to a public interest test. 
Other exemptions in both Acts may also apply to information held by public authorities that relates to The Queen, other Members of the Royal Family or the Royal Household on a wide range of subjects.

It is particularly worth recognising that information that interests the public may not be the same as that which would be disclosed in the public interest. It is a fundamental constitutional principle that communications between The Queen and her Ministers and other public bodies should remain confidential, and that the political neutrality of The Queen and the Royal Family, and the Royal Household acting on their behalf, should be maintained.

FOI-related applications should be made direct to the public body holding the information concerned, and each information request will be subject to case-by-case consideration.

FOI status of personal information on The Queen and the Royal Family

Like everyone else, The Queen and Members of the Royal Family are entitled to private lives; FOI exemptions relating to the private aspects of people's lives, such as, for example, private finances and activities undertaken in a personal and private capacity, therefore apply equally to The Queen and Members of the Royal Family as to any other individual. Questions requiring disclosure of this kind of information will be governed by the terms of the Data Protection Act.

Information held by bodies subject to the Public Records Act

Papers that originate in the Royal Household but are held by bodies subject to the Public Records Act 1958, for example The National Archives, are public records.

FOI-related applications should be made direct to the public body holding the information concerned.

Information held by the Royal Archives

Since the Royal Household is not a public authority under the terms of FOI legislation, neither the FOI Act nor the Public Records Act relate to access to the Royal Archives. Papers in the Royal Archives are not public records, as defined by the Public Records Act.

Contact information

The Royal Household is committed to transparency, and to making information available, where appropriate. Any enquiries should be directed in writing as follows:

Postal address for The Queen, members of the Royal Family and Royal Household Departments:
Buckingham Palace
London SW1A 1AA.

Postal address for The Prince of Wales's Household Office:
Clarence House
St James's Palace
London SW1A 1BA.

Postal address for information relating to any Royal Collection works of art or paintings:
The Royal Collection
Stable Yard House
St James's Palace 
London SW1A 1BA. 

Postal address for information relating to the Royal Archives:
Senior Archivist
The Royal Archives
Round Tower
Windsor Castle
Windsor 
Berkshire SL4 1NJ.

Making a complaint
If you are dissatisfied with the response to your request for access to information, please write to: 
The Director of Records
Buckingham Palace
London SW1A 1AA.

FOI requests to Public Authorities
If you are a public authority which has received a Freedom of Information request for Royal information, please write to: 
Secretariat
Private Secretary's Office
Buckingham Palace
London SW1A 1AA.

Further advice
Further information on Freedom of Information, and the Royal Household's Freedom of Information status, is available from the following web sites:

Freedom of Information Act 2000
Full text of the legislation relating to Freedom of Information in English, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Ministry of Justice Guidance
Overview of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 from the Ministry of Justice.

The Information Commissioner
The authority responsible for administering and enforcing the Act, including approval of publication schemes. 

Exemptions relating to communications with The Queen and other members of the Royal Household (Section 37 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000)
Guidance on Royal exemption, issued by the Ministry of Justice.

Information relating to the Royal Household and Honours 
Guidance on information relating to the status of information relating to the Royal Household and Honours, issued by the Information Commissioner.

Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002
Full text of the legislation relating to Freedom of Information in Scotland.

The Scottish Executive's Freedom of Information Unit
Information on, and interpretation of, the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

Scottish Information Commissioner
The authority in Scotland responsible for the promotion and enforcement of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

Communications with Her Majesty etc. and Honours
Guidance on information relating to the Royal Household and Honours, issued by the Scottish Information Commissioner.