The FOI Officers Handbook by Paul Gibbons – Book Review

Book title: The Freedom of Information Officer’s Handbook | Author: Paul Gibbons| Published date: 3rd January 2019 | Pages: 312pp | Style available: Paperback, Hardback & Ebook ISBN: 978-1-78339-353-3 (paperback)  | Price: £67.50  | Publisher: Facet Publishing

FOI Book picture - Front cover of The FOI Officer - Paul Gibbons / Book Review

Author Background

I’ve known Paul for quite some time,  although I can’t remember the first time I met him. I think he was presenting at the IRMS Public Sector Group when I first attended in 2007.  He was an independent consultant, known as FOIMan, and was the inspiration behind RMGirl!

I remember writing to him to check that my use of the name RMGirl wouldn’t bother him. He graciously replied that he hadn’t got a copyright on every superhero but appreciated me contacting him. Paul decided to leave FOIMan behind and hang up his cape, going back to a full-time job in 2020. No one can replace FOIMan. He leaves behind a huge gap in the market and no one will easily fill his boots!

Paul recently retired FOIMan completely having settled in his full-time role. As a result, the IRMS have announced that they will be preserving his website content to ensure the resources he published do not get lost. You can read about more of that here.  He has also given us this book and I’ve had the opportunity to review it.

FOI Book Background

The Freedom of Information Officer’s Handbook is a comprehensive guide to FOI and its management. It is designed to be an indispensable tool for FOI Officers and their colleagues. It includes:

  • a guide to the UK’s FOI Act, the right to know and the exemptions
  • clear analysis of the most important case law and its implications for the handling of FOI requests
  • pointers to the best resources to help FOI officers in their work
  • explanations of how FOI interacts with other legislation, including detailed explorations of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and how the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation impacts on FOI
  • a look at requirements to proactively publish information and the effect of copyright and re-use laws on FOI and open data
  • comparisons of the UK’s Act with FOI legislation in other jurisdictions from Scotland to South Africa
  • an exploration of the role of the FOI Officer: who they are, what they do, their career development and what makes them effective
  • suggestions on how to embed FOI within an organisation using effective procedures, technology and training
  • a stage-by-stage guide to processing requests for information.

The Freedom of Information Officers’ Handbook includes the latest developments in FOI including amendments made to the UK’s FOI Act by the Data Protection Act 2018 and the revised s.45 code of practice published by the Cabinet Office in July 2018.

Handy FOI Handbook

I have carried this handbook in my bag for a while and I’m often referring to it when I can’t remember certain parts. I’m not very good at remembering which section does what for any kind of legislation so it’s great that this book is plain speaking and not just repeating the legislation.

The publication of this book was after GDPR, and so it covers recent content. I don’t have to wonder if any of it is out of date / has changed.

Also this book isn’t too heavy and chunky, it’s an easy accessible and handy FOI handbook.

Factual without opinion

If there’s one thing that I have to commend Paul for doing is sticking to a narrative that keeps any form of opinion out of his writing. The book follows a very continual approach to maintaining fact and not getting lost in the ether of opinion.

A huge thing that I loved as well is the “summing up” section at the end of each chapter. Factual snippets that you could check you understood everything that was written about. What more could you want?

Code of Practice on Records Management

I have some very strong opinions on how people represent records management in various disciplines. Quite frankly, there isn’t enough representation of it so when I saw there was a whole chapter on Records and Archives, my heart did a leap of joy.  Naturally I’d expect records management to be covered not least because of Section 46 but I was just glad to see an abundance of pages littered with my favourite topic.

Not to mention the first quote of “Freedom of Information legislation is only as good as the quality of the records and other information to which it provides access. Access rights are of limited value if the information cannot be found or, when found it cannot be relied upon as authoritative.”

Useful Tables and Appendices

Tables in a professional book are what I live for. Something cannot always be explained just in text form and the use of tables is the best way to display information. You’ll see that I like tables in other books such as Rachel Maguires Information Rights for Records Managers book. You can read my review of it here.

Templates are seemingly where it is at.   Personally, I both love and hate templates as it can lead to the end user being pretty lazy and not customising it for their organisation. I saw this a lot with the NHS Code of Practice for Records Management,  orgs would simply download the full retention schedule and not remove any records out that they didn’t actually have e.g. a mental health trust without an A&E having emergency related records on their retention schedule.  So I think it’s important not to take templates as gospel but it does solve the issue of a blank page.


In the words of Tony Blair on FOI: “You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop…” if you are an FOI officer and don’t get this book. This book is an every FOI Officer’s book that needs to be on your desk.  You can buy it from the publisher, Facet, here.

10/10 Wax Stamp


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Book Review – The FOI Officers Handbook by Paul Gibbons