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The Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), along with the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland (ACPO) and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), was added as a public authority under the Freedom of Information (Designation as Public Authorities) Order 2011.

FOS has the power to resolve individual financial disputes under the Financial Services and Markets Act. ACPO is a body that represents chief police officers from individual forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. UCAS is responsible for managing student applications for higher education courses in the UK.

The bodies join a host of other public authorities – such as government departments, local councils, NHS bodies and education institutions – which are subject to FOI laws.

The Freedom of Information Act and Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act came into full force on 1 January 2005. The laws give individuals the right to see information held by government departments and public bodies.

Under the FOI laws anyone of any nationality living anywhere in the world can make a written request for information and expect a response within 20 working days. The public authority will be obliged to meet that request unless exemptions apply or unless meeting it will be too costly or difficult.

Kellie Blyth, an expert in FOI laws at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that it is expected more bodies will become subject to FOI under further expansions of the laws.

The extension of FOI laws has been debated in recent years, with the previous Labour government ruling that some bodies should be brought within its reach, but that companies should not, even when they perform the functions of a public body.

In January, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg promised that more publicly-funded and charitable organisations would be subject to FOI in an extension of the laws.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which is responsible for ensuring public authorities comply with FOI laws, told Out-Law.com that it "welcomed" the extension of the laws. The watchdog has previously campaigned for more bodies to be subject to FOI. In a government consultation in 2008, the ICO said any new organisations coming under the FOI remit to should be introduced in stages so as it could advise them on how to comply with the laws.

Copyright © 2011, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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