How free is the freedom of information act and do they really want us to know the answers?

Tony Blair famously called himself a "foolish, irresponsible nincompoop" for implementing it and David Cameron referred to it as a "tsunami of data, but as we await the government releasing full 2012 statistics –  we only have till Q3 at present – we ask, just how much are we really using the FOI and are we getting the answers we want.

The Freedom of Information Act – a lovely piece of legislation allowing anyone to request data from government departments, get told whether or not they hold that data and if so have it communicated to them – had 47,141 requests in 2011 and has rapidly been growing since 2005. With the increase in volume averaging between 5% and 15% year on year – last years was a 7% increase stats fans – more than ever people are turning to the government for answers. Out of those 47,141 requests a whopping 92% received a response within the statutory deadline or were subject to a deadline extension. For Q2 in 2013 that was even higher at 93% but fell back to 92% in Q3. 10,657 however were refused, either in full or in part, where one or more exemption or exception was applied. The most commonly applied exemption was under section 40 (information requested relating to personal information), which was applied to 4,779 of those requests. In 28% of requests, the departments used exemptions as the reason not to supply the data.

In July to September (Q3) 2012 the monitored central government bodies received a total of 11,563 non-routine FOI requests, 2 per cent less than in Q3 of 2011. In the first three quarters of 2012 there were 37,313 requests, in part caused by a peak in Q1 2012 due to rises in requests to the Department of Health and the Department of Work and Pensions, regarding controversial policies being introduced. Check out the full details here.

So who was top of the information pops, The Health and Safety Executive had the biggest single number of requests in 2011 – 6,617, or 14% of the total with exemptions applied in 29% of cases, closely followed by the Ministry of Defence with 3,559 requests – or 7.5% of the total and the Department Of Work and Pensions with 3,510. The highest percentage of exemptions were from the Office of Fair Trading, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Serious Fraud Office.

As the frequency increased however so did the fees being introduced in response from local authorities. In 2008 only 28% of local authorities charged for information, but in 2009 that figure had increased to 35%, by 2011 this figure is even higher as the government look to claw back time and money spent on providing us with the answers we want. Seen by some as a deterrent, these fees seem to be slowly creeping up year on year but show little sign of stopping our insatiable thirst for information.