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Access to information

SEPA operates under two pieces of legislation that give you the right of access to information we hold.

  • Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 - known as FOI
  • Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 - known as EIR

SEPA receives hundreds of information requests every year and we aim to provide a high level of service to all enquirers.

While we want to be as open as possible the legislation allows, and sometimes requires, us to withhold some types of information. This can include personal information, information that is about to be published and information that is commercially confidential or that relates to national security.

If disclosure may not be possible due to the application of an exemption, we still seek to release information in cases where the public interest overrides the exemption applied.

We'll always explain our reasons if we withhold information.

Proactive publication of data

Public Register - Under various pieces of legislation, SEPA have to maintain certain information about activities we regulate in registers and make that information available to the public. These different registers of information are commonly referred to together as "the Public Register". Since the criminal cyber-attack on out systems disabled our Public Register, we continue to provide a service in response to requests for public information. Our new Public Register page contains links to all Public Register information that is currently available online. For any information not currently available online you will need to make a request by emailing our access to information team.

You may find the information you need is already available, and a request for information is not needed.

  • SEPA data web page- We publish a range of datasets related to the environment and are continually reviewing and adding to this list. Some of the most commonly requested datasets are:
    • Air - Air Monitoring Sites, Volcanic Emissions Network.
    • Aquaculture - Monthly biomass and treatment reports, Sea Lice Reporting.
    • Flooding - Flood Maps, Flood Risk Management Plans, National Flood Risk Assessment.
    • Hydrometry – river flow, water levels and rainfall data.
    • Pollutant release information - Scottish Pollutant Release Inventory (SPRI), monitoring points.
    • Waste information - Household waste data, Registered Waste Carriers and Brokers, Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Public register, Waste data reporting (Business), Waste management infrastructure capacity data,
    • Water - Reservoirs, river and coastal catchments, Drought Risk Assessment Tool, Drinking Water protected areas, Water Classification Hub, River basin management planning
    • Regulated Sites - Compliance Assessment Scheme, map of Licensed sites
    • LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging)
  • Some Spatial Data is published under the EU Inspire Directive
  • Disclosure Log – Previous requests for information are logged for you to search by keyword. Note that there is a gap between December 2020 and January 2023 where information was not uploaded due to the cyber-attack on SEPA.
  • Scotland’s Environment brings together environmental information and data in one place so that is easy to search, discover, analyse and interpret. Also available are Scotland's SoilsScotland's Aquaculture and Scotland's Noise.
  • SEPA’s website holds a large amount of information. To help you find what you are looking for, the main sections are as follows:
    • Regulation - the legislation that applies to the environment; how we regulate; what activities are subject to regulation and why; what you need to do if your activity is subject to regulation; and how to find out more information.
    • Flooding – live flood updates, access to Floodline, how to check your flood risk, more information on flood maps and flood risk assessment.
    • Environment - the environmental issues we report on, how they affect our regulatory activities, how we use our knowledge to create a bigger picture of the state of Scotland’s environment, and contains links to a variety of useful data sources, publications and online resources.
    • About us - who we are; our aims, objectives and values; how we work and what our people do; and how you can play your part in helping to protect our environment.

Making a request

If you are unable to find what you need you can request any information, regardless of who you are, where you live or what you want the information for.

To submit a request for information, please email our Access to Information Service. You should be as specific as possible about the information you want so we can help you, although you do not need to tell us why you want it.

We must respond to your request within 20 working days. However, if your request concerns environmental information, we are, in exceptional circumstances, allowed to take up to 40 working days to respond.

Once your enquiry has been received, we will send you written acknowledgement and a unique reference number, which should be quoted in any correspondence relating to your request.

Requests for information need to be reasonable for an authority to complete within the 20 working days given within the legislation. It helps us to help you if you can focus your request on the key points you really want to know. You might also find it helpful to think about the question, "What is the key piece of information you want?" so that you can define the wording of your request for that specific piece of information.

Further advice and assistance with making a request for information is available on the Scottish Information Commissioner's website.

Making a request for personal data

You have a right to see information about yourself by submitting a Subject Access Request under the Data Protection Act 2018.

If you wish to make a subject access request, please complete the subject access request form which should contain sufficient information to allow reasonable identification of the data required. You will also need to send a copy of photographic identification.


Most enquiries are free of charge. However, if your request takes more than seven hours to complete, the following charges can apply;

  • £25 an hour of staff time for environmental information
  • £15 an hour of staff time for non-environmental information, with charges applicable up to 10 per cent of the total cost.

If we need to make a charge, we will contact you before work on your request commences and advise you of this.

Current performance and improvement

We are committed to improving our access to information performance and making the process for requesting information as straightforward as possible. Our aim is to process at least 90% of enquiries within the timescales set out in legislation by the end of 2023 at the latest.

Our ability to respond to FOIs and EIRs was affected by Covid-19 restrictions, as access to information stored in offices was restricted. The service was more seriously impacted by the cyber-attack on SEPA at the end of 2020.

While we had no access to our systems, requests built up and enquiries we had already received could not be responded to. This also led to an increase in the number of formal reviews and appeals to the Information Commissioner which were prioritised.

Over 2022 we have increased the size of our dedicated Access to Information services team, and improved our target response time from 15% of enquiries in April 2022 to 80% of enquiries in July 2023.

SEPA continues to pursue opportunities to make our process more efficient, publish more data proactively and explore avenues to further improve performance.

Date Responses due Sent within timescale % sent within timescale (target 80%)
April 2022 68 10 15
May 2022 62 6 10
June 2022 74 18 24
July 2022 85 47 55
August 2022 99 58 59
September 2022 104 58 53
October 2022 88 60 68
November 2022 81 60 74
December 2022 114 92 80
January 2023 84 59 70
February 2023 112 78 70
March 2023 150 116 77
April 2023 84 58 69
May 2023 133 93 70
June 2023 116 91 78
July 2023 118 95 81
August 2023 129 70 54

Dealing with our backlog

While SEPA staff have been working to reduce the backlog of FOI, EIR enquiries and formal reviews as much as possible, new requests for information are always coming in. Although a large number of historic request and related formal reviews have been completed, continuing to try and answer these is impacting response rates for new enquiries.

Case information 2021 2022 2023 (to 31 July)
Cases received 792 1,095 1,034
Cases completed 170 780 874

We are aware that many of these historic requests may no longer be required. In order to provide the best service we can, while protecting everyone's information rights, we have decided to take the following decisions for FOI and EIR requests made before 9 January 2023. Any requests for information made on or after 9 January 2023 are not affected.

If you have an open request that fits within one of the following categories, we will be closing your request. If you still want to receive  the information you will need to submit a new enquiry.

  • Request is more than 60 working days old, you have not requested a formal review and you have not heard from us.
  • You have a valid formal review which was requested before 30 June 2022 and you have not heard from us.
  • The formal review was requested more than 40 working days after the request.

We understand that this is not the high level of service that we wish to provide.

If you have an open request with a valid formal review which was requested after 30 June 2022, we will be in touch regarding your response. The reference numbers for these are available below:

  • FOI194781

Statement from the Scottish Information Commissioner

SEPA has kept my office informed of the difficulties faced since the cyber incident and I recognise the measures already put in place to rebuild its access to information systems. Although disappointed that a volume of requests remained unanswered, I recognise, in relation to requests for environmental information, the strict legislative time limits for making reviews and appeals. The approach adopted provides a practical route for requesters to re-seek information. We will continue to work with SEPA to improve its performance responding to requests over the next 6-12 months.

What if I still want the information I asked for?

If you still want to receive the information you asked for, please submit a new FOI or EIR request.

What if I'm not happy?

If you have a case affected by the backlog and you are not satisfied, you can submit an official complaint to SEPA. More information on the process and how to do this is available in our complaints handling procedure.

If your enquiry is not impacted by the backlog and you are unhappy with how SEPA has handled it, please follow the process for reviews and appeals.

Reviews and appeals

Every request for information, under either the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 or the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, is formally logged as follows:

  • Stage 1 - Request for information
  • Stage 2 - Formal review
  • Stage 3 - Appeal for decision by the Scottish Information Commissioner (OSIC)

Once your request has been received, you will receive a response to your enquiry along with the requested information and/or an explanation regarding any withheld information.

If you are not happy with the response (or have not had a response), you have the right to request a formal review from SEPA. Every internal formal review will be fair, reasonable, transparent and proportionate and will have clear terms of reference.

If you do not agree with the findings of out internal review, you can appeal the the Scottish Information Commissioner, who is responsible for enforcing Scotland's freedom of information laws.