Guidance Note 3: Exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act

The Freedom of Information Act provides individuals with a right of access to recorded information held by public authorities.

To comply with the Act, on receipt of an information request, the University must:

  • confirm or deny whether the information specified in the request exists and is held by the University or on behalf of the University, and
  • under all reasonable circumstances, communicate the information , in the manner requested.

The exemptions remove this right of access to information, and there are two types of exemption in the Freedom of Information Act: Absolute and Qualified. Some of these are class-based exemptions, and only apply to certain classes of information, whilst others are prejudice-based exemptions which require a prejudice test of some kind. Detailed explanations and guidance on the application of each exemption can be found on the DCA or Information Commissioner's website by following the links below. The exemptions that are most relevant to the University are highlighted, and described in more detail with practical examples of information that might be covered included wherever possible.

General Rule:

If an exemption applies, then the information will not be disclosed, unless there is a strong public interest to do so. However, it is important to note that even if an exemption applies that prevents disclosure, there may still be a requirement to inform the applicant that the information exists (the duty to confirm or deny).

Seek advice from Registry if you receive a request for information that you believe to be exempt.

Absolute Exemptions

If an Absolute exemption applies the University is not required to consider the public interest. Generally, this means there will be no right of access to the information under the FOI Act. However, the University must provide sufficient advice and assistance to the applicant in order to comply with s16 FOIA.

Qualified Exemptions

All Qualified exemptions require a Public Interest Test, which means that, even if the information falls within the scope of one of these exemptions, it is necessary to consider, on a case-by-case basis whether it is in the public interest to disclose the information.

Only in circumstances whereby the public interest is better served to maintain the exemption, rather than disclose the information, can the University legitimately refuse access. On refusing access, the applicant must be informed of the reasoning behind the decision, unless doing so would mean releasing the exempt information.

Further explanation and guidance on Exemptions:

DCA website:http://www.foi.gov.uk/guidance/exguide/index.htm

Information Commissioner's website:http://www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk