Learn to balance the public interest to withhold or disclose using Freedom of Information

About this Course

The Practitioner Certificate is an established program for those with Freedom of Information responsibilities.

What's included

  • Pre-course
  • Day
  • Classroom
  • +40 hours
  • Exam
  • 3 hour BCS
8 to 12 week programme

Course Overview

The BCS Practitioner Certificate in Freedom of Information offers an in-depth practical examination of FOI and EIR. An accepted mark of achievement, award holders, are often selected to lead disclosure practices of publicly held information within their organisation, department or authority.

This BCS accredited course explores the rights people have to know about the activities of public bodies, except where there is a valid reason for non-disclosure. It examines how transparency and openness are integral to the degree of trust and confidence placed in public authorities. And how being accountable opens debate, ultimately leading to the development of more efficient public services.

The course requires participants develop a thorough understanding of the access requirements under the Freedom of Information Act and Environmental Information Regulations along with other associated legislation. It covers the process and mechanisms used to administer the release of information held by, or on behalf of, government departments and public authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Delivered over 5-days the course follows the latest BCS Syllabus. Participants will also receive a separate 1-day course to help prepare for the BCS Practitioner Exam. The BCS exam is a 3-hour closed-book examination comprising three sections.



The BCS Practitioner Certificate in Freedom of Information course is conducted over 5 consecutive days.

The following schedule is intended as a guide:

Day 1 9:15 Introduction & Housekeeping
9:30 Course Aims - Examination details and technique
9:45 How to read an Act of Parliament
10:00 Historical Overview and background
10:15 International Aspects
10:30 Morning refreshments
10:45 Definitions and Scope Part 1 - Duties of the Act
11:45 Definitions and Scope Part 2 - Who the Act affects and application
12:30 Lunch
13:15 Definitions and Scope Part 2 cont.
15:00 Afternoon tea
15:15 Definitions and Scope Part 2 cont.
15:45 Multipe choice exercise
16:00 Held Information exercise
Day 2 9:00 Review and questions
9:20 Part 3 Obligations and Responsibilities - Access Rights Introduction of Section 45 Code of Practice and FOI Act
- Valid Requests, Logging and Clarification
10:30 Morning refreshments
10:45 Vexatious and Repeated requests
- Redaction, Refusals and Failure to locate
- Advice and Assistance, Transfers
12:30 Lunch
13:15 Consulting 3rd Parties and Devolved Governments
- Copyright and IPR
- Fees Regulations
14:30 Afternoon tea
14:45 Time Deadlines
15:15 Case study exercise
15:45 Introduction to EIR Code of Practice
- Main differences between EIR and FOI
Homework Practice exercises and case studies
Day 3 9:00 Review and questions
9:15 Code of Practice/Regulations EIR on Access
10:30 Morning refreshments
10:45 Code of Practice/Regulations EIR on Access Cont.
11:00 Obligations and Responsibilities Part 2 - Section 46 Records Management Code of Practice
12:30 Lunch
13:15 Records Management cont.
14:30 Afternoon tea
15:00 Historical Records - CRAG Act, Historical records after 20 years
14:45 Origins and Responsibilities Part 3 - Publication Scheme
Homework Practice exercises and case studies
Day 4 9:00 Review and questions
9:20 Obligations and Responsibilities Part 4
- Harm Test
- PIT - Examples of Arguments for and against
- Practical exercise
10:30 Morning refreshments
10:45 Absolute Exemptions
12:30 Lunch
13:15 Qualified Exemptions
14:30 Afternoon tea
14:45 Qualified Exemptions cont.
15:45 BCS sample case study
Homework Practice exercises and case studies
Day 5 9:00 Review and questions
- Ministerial Certificates
- Ministerial Override Section 53
- Obligations and Responsibilities Part 5 Enforcement and Appeals
- Role, powers and responsibilities of the ICO
- Undertakings and Assessments
10:30 Morning refreshments
10:45 Practice Recommendations
  Decision, Information and Enforcement Notices
  FOI Offences - Section 77/Warrant Offences Appeals
12:30 Lunch
12:45 Obligations and Responsibilities Part 6 - EIR Exceptions Reg 12(4) and 12(5)
14:30 Afternoon tea
14:45 Complete EIR Exceptions
15:30 Obligations and Responsibilities Part 7 - Related Legislation
- Re-Use of Public Sector Information
- Inspire
- Data Protection Act
16:45 Questions and Answers

Who should attend?

This course is intended for:

  • Freedom of Information Managers
  • Environmental Information Regulations Managers
  • Information Governance (IG) and Information Assurance (IA) professionals (all grades)
  • Records Managers working in the public sector
  • Data Protection Officers working within the public sector
  • FOI lead officers within an industry sector carrying out a public function or service e.g. Utilities & Housing Authorities
  • Lead FOI officers within relevant public-private partnerships
  • Solicitors advising on information law and press officers

By obtaining the Practitioner Certificate, individuals will:

  • Hold the leading practitioner level accredited qualification in Freedom of Information
  • Develop a deep appreciation of FOI in its widest context, its interaction with EIRs, DPA and other associated legislation
  • Have the confidence to lead organisational compliance for both FOI and EIR
  • Be able to give advice and support on relevant information handling standards and frameworks
  • Understand the types of information likely to be requested along with those required to be made available within a Publication Scheme
  • Be equipped to develop Freedom of Information policies that cover the processing and monitoring of:
    • the receipt of a new information request through to disclosure, and
    • the application of appropriate legal exemptions or exceptions from disclosure and the public interest test
    • the calculation of fees where applicable

The BCS Practitioner Certificate in Freedom of information aligns with the vocational qualification QCF Level 4. Note, this link is advisory and for comparison purposes only. Ofqual does not regulate BCS qualifications.

BCS Syllabus

Practitioner Certificate in Freedom of Information (PC-FOI) Syllabus

This professional certification is not regulated by the following United Kingdom Regulators - Ofqual, Qualification in Wales, CCEA or SQA.

1. Context: Origins and Background

(1.0 hours of course work)

The objective is to ensure an understanding of the purpose of the legislation. It is recommended that only one hour of study is spent on this topic. This depth of study can only serve as an overview of this topic. However, it should develop an appreciation of the intentions of Government to promote openness and transparency in public institutions which are relevant to the consideration of the public interest in disclosure decisions.

2. Definitions and Scope of the Legislation

(5 hours of course work)

A. What the legislation does:

  • Imposes a duty to adopt and maintain a Publication Scheme
  • Provides a right of access to recorded information held by public authorities, without the need to mention, or even know about, the Act
  • Imposes the obligation, in most cases, to confirm or deny whether the information is held by the public authority
  • Creates exemptions from the duty to disclose information
  • Establishes the arrangements for enforcement and appeal
  • Requires Ministers to publish Codes of Practice

B. Application of the FOIA:

  • Bodies included in Schedule 1 of the Act itself
  • By order amending Schedule 1. Provision of available examples
  • By order adding any person that exercises functions of a public nature or is providing under a contract with a public authority any service whose provision is a function of that authority
  • Publicly owned company (including any corporate body)

C. FOIA and the private sector:

  • Information held on behalf of a public authority
  • Organisations designated as exercising a public function
  • Private companies whose information is held by a public authority

D. Who may apply and for what?

  • The applicant - any natural or legal person of any nationality, living anywhere, for any reason
  • Recorded information “held” by a public authority
  • To be supplied in a “preferred” format

3. Obligations and Responsibilities

(10 hours of course work)

A. Good Practice:

  • Discharge of Functions Code of Practice (s45 FOIA)
  • Records Management Code of Practice (s46 FOIA)

B. Publication Schemes:

  • Duty to adopt and maintain an approved Publication Scheme
  • Model schemes and bespoke schemes
  • Charging policy
  • Duty to publish information in accordance with that Scheme (printed publications, public registers, web pages)
  • Duty to review the Scheme

C. Access rights:

  • Criteria for a valid request
  • Giving advice and assistance
  • Clarification of requests
  • Vexatious or repeated requests
  • Consulting third parties
  • Transferring requests
  • Duty to confirm or deny
  • Duty to provide information subject to application of exemptions from disclosure
  • Responses – supplying requested information and refusals
  • Historical records
  • Copyright/intellectual property rights

D. Fees Regulations/Costs under FOIA:

  • Fees Regulations made under the Act
  • Fees Notices and prepayment

E. Time deadlines:

  • Regulations made under the Act
  • Variations and extensions under the Act

4. Disclosure/Non-disclosure

(12 hours of course work)

Exemptions from disclosure

  • Absolute versus non-absolute exemptions
  • Class based exemptions
  • Prejudice tests
  • Public interest test
  • Ministerial certificates (under section 24, 25 and 53 of the FOIA)
  • Common law duty of confidence
  • Removal of exemptions: historical records

5. Enforcement and Appeals

(2 hours of course work)

Enforcement powers:

  • Role and powers of the Information Commissioner
  • Information, Decision and Enforcement notices
  • Practice Recommendations


  • Offence of altering etc. records with intent to prevent disclosure
  • Offences of obstruction, execution and warrant


  • Internal review
  • Appeal to ICO
  • Appeal against notices of the ICO
  • Appeal to First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights)
  • Roles and powers of the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights)
  • Appeals to the High Court

6. Environmental Information Regulations

(6 Hours of course work)

  • Scope of the Regulations (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland)
  • Definition of environmental information
  • Code of Practice relating to the Regulations
  • Interface with Freedom of Information and Data Protection legislation
  • Obligations imposed by the Regulations
  • Access rights: who may apply and for what
  • Time deadlines and related provisions
  • Charges for provision of environmental information
  • Exceptions from disclosure
  • Enforcement

7. Related Legislation

(4 hours of course work)

A. Data Protection Act 1998

  • Definition of personal data
  • Sections 7 and 10 of the Data Protection Act 1998
  • Interface between Data Protection Act 1998 and FOIA
  • Amendments to Data Protection Act 1998 that relate to FOIA

B. Basic awareness and outline knowledge of the following, including their impact on FOIA:

  • Official Secrets Act 1989
  • Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985
  • Local Government Act 1972
  • Local Government Act 2000
  • Access to Health Records Act 1990
  • The Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2005

The full BCS PC-FOI Syllabus can be viewed here syllabus on the BCS website.

Exam Preparation

Exam Preparation Day

The topics covered in this session include:

Part 1. Online discussion and presentation

  • Exam technique
  • Timing
  • Completing the exam paperwork
  • How to break down BCS exam questions
    • Reading questions properly
    • Answering questions correctly
  • Exercises
  • Group discussion, 3 example questions

Part 2. Mock exam

  • 1 1/2 hour mock exam (50% of the exam paper)

Part 3. Discussion, Q&A, review of the mock exam

  • Group discussion, mock exam answers

Following the examination prep day, the instructor will evaluate each student’s mock paper and provide individual feedback. This will include direct comments on the answers, exam technique and offer guidance for further study areas.


Duration and Format of the Examination

The examination is a three-hour closed-book examination comprising three sections. The format is as follows with a balance of questions across the syllabus.


Section A:  10 multiple choice questions (1 mark each). All questions to be attempted.
Section B:  8 short answer bullet point questions (5 marks each). All questions to be attempted.
Section C: 6 essay questions from which the candidate must select two (15 marks each) and a compulsory Case Study (20 marks). The essay questions set out a practical or theoretical scenario and need to be answered in a methodical way as though you were briefing your chief executive on an FOI request.

The examination is held independently of the accredited course.

Pass Mark

The pass mark is 50/100. This equates to 50%


Distinctions will be awarded to candidates who achieve 80 or more.

Format of the Examination

Type 10% multiple choice 40% short bullet point answers 50% discursive essays
Duration 3 Hours. An additional 45 minutes will be allowed for candidates sitting the examination in a language that is not their native language
Invigilated Yes
Open Book No
Pass Mark 50/100 (50%)
Distinction Mark 80/100 (80%)
Calculators Calculators cannot be used during this examination
Delivery Paper based examination only

Additional time for candidates requiring Reasonable Adjustments

Candidates may request additional time if they require reasonable adjustments. Please refer to the reasonable adjustments policy for detailed information on how and when to apply.

Additional time for candidates whose language is not the language of the exam

An additional 25% (45 minutes) will be allowed for candidates sitting the examination in a language that is not their mother tongue. If the examination is taken in a language that is not the candidate’s native/official language, then they are entitled to use their own paper language dictionary (whose purpose is translation between the examination language and another national language) during the examination. Electronic versions of dictionaries will not be allowed into the examination room.

The full BCS PC-FOI Syllabus can be viewed here syllabus on the BCS website.

Course Cost

Get this BCS Practitioner Certificate in Freedom of Information for:

  • Receive a 15% online discount for multiple bookings onto public courses
  • If you have a team of 4 or more, we can deliver the training at your location - ask about an onsite course
Package includes:
  • 5-day BCS Accredited FOI Training Course
  • 1-Day Exam Preparation Online Training Course
  • Entrance to the separate 3-hour, 3-part BCS Examination
Courseware: the only FOI manual you will ever need
  • Comprehensive 220-page training manual comes in an A4 bound folder + an editable electronic version
  • Includes free lifetime updates (electronic version), which means it will never go out of date
  • Copy of the Freedom of Information Act & Environmental Information Regulation plus:
    • Code of Practice (datasets) - Discharge of public authorities' functions under part 1 of the FOIA
    • Section 45 Code of Practice - Request Handling
    • Section 46 Code of Practice - Records Management
    • Code of Practice - EIR
  • Electronic copy of the full course PowerPoint
  • Exercises & Revision materials
  • Prep day course materials with sample exam questions

You will also receive access to our free professional advisory service, potentially reducing the need for legal advice or consultation fees by supplying the right advice when you need it most.


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Course dates

Code Course Start Duration Location Booking
PC-FOI BCS Practitioner Certificate in Freedom of Information 2 Mar 20 5 days Bedford Book now
1 Jun 20 5 days Bedford Book now

BCS Practitioner Certificate in Freedom of Information (PC-FOI)

Starts: 2 Mar 20

Duration: 5 days

Location: Bedford

Book now

BCS Practitioner Certificate in Freedom of Information (PC-FOI)

Starts: 1 Jun 20

Duration: 5 days

Location: Bedford

Book now

Examination Events

When booking onto one of the above course dates, you will be asked to select two dates for your examination events. We advise you choose a date for your exam preparation day 4-8 weeks after the 5-day training course. Then book your BCS exam 4 - 6 weeks after the exam preparation day.

Exam preparation day
Duration: 1dayFormat: online
  • 18 Nov 19
  • 30 Mar 20
  • 29 Jun 20
BCS Exam
Duration: 1/2dayLocation: Bedford
  • 12 Dec 19
  • 30 Apr 20
  • 30 Jul 20

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