Refusals and exemptions

Introduction

The law allows for Public Authorities to refuse requests or exempt information from disclosure provided in certain circumstances. There are different provisions for requests handled under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) and the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR).

The most commonly used and the circumstances in which Universities typically used are set out below:

Information about Students (FOI s40, EIR R13)

  • Where considering disclosing information about students might lead to individuals being identifiable, depending on the context we may choose to exempt or use ‘rounding’ up or down of figures. This is in line with the method used when statutory reporting for the Sector is published. This may in particular relate to themes such as equality and diversity, complaints, investigations, misconduct etc.
  • When considering disclosing information about Student deaths, the University only records a cause of death if we receive confirmation of a suicide verdict from a Coroner (or an equivalent overseas official). We do not request to be informed of this information.

Staff Personal Data (FOI s40, EIR R13)

  • Where considering disclosing information about staff might lead to individuals being identifiable, depending on the context we may choose to exempt or use ‘rounding’ up or down of figures. This is in line with the method used when statutory reporting for the Sector is published. This may in particular relate to themes such as equality and diversity, complaints, grievances and agreements, relationships etc

Commercial Interests (FOI s43, EIR R12.5(e))

We may choose to exempt information from disclosure where it may:

  • Adversely affect the University’s ability to compete fairly and effectively in attracting students to study with us.
  • Harm the ability of our partners, suppliers and unsuccessful bidders to compete effectively in the market by exempting pricing strategy details and unique aspects of service delivery.

And the harm disclosure may cause is not outweighed by the public interest

Risk Management (FOI s31 & s38, EIR R12.5(a))

We may choose to exempt information from disclosure where it may:

  • Put University Data and other Assets at risk of criminal activity where disclosure identifies potential vulnerabilities which are currently being worked on.
  • Protect staff, students, visitors from risks to their Health & Safety

And the harm disclosure may cause is not outweighed by the public interest

Information that is already Published (FOI s21)

We would advise the requestor where information requested is already in the public domain; for example our statutory reporting on the HESA website, information on our Publication Scheme, data generally on our website or through tools such as our procurement portal.

Information soon to be Published (FOI s22 & 22A, EIR R12.4(d))

  • Information that falls within a previous year’s financial accounts or statutory reporting to HESA is not deemed by the University to be ready for disclosure until it has been approved as accurate by our governance processes. Requests for this information which is at pre-approval stage will typically be exempt and requestors will be informed of the likely publication date when they can access the data online.
  • Information relating to upcoming procurement opportunities is likely to be exempt until it has formally been published on our tender portal.
  • Information relating to our research activities which is not yet at final report stage is likely to come under this exemption.

And the public interest does not favour early disclosure

Information relating to strategic decisions (FOI s36, EIR R12.5(d&e))

  • Public Authorities are permitted protections over their ‘thinking space’ when deliberating strategic decisions, providing that it the opinion of the Vice-Chancellor, the exemption does apply and that the public interest does not outweigh the harm that disclosure may cause.

Refusals and Exemptions in detail

For FOI exemptions this is not an exhaustive list. Other exemptions that are not referenced below relate typically to the activities of Central Government and associated Agencies , or to other sectors within the Public Sector.

There are links provided to the description within the Act/ Regulation itself and the Information Commissioner’s guidance which we follow when considering withholding information.

Confirm or deny

Environmental Information Regulations

In the Regulations, ‘Exemptions’ (the term used in FOI) are referred to as ‘Exceptions’.

Regulation

Regulation 12

ICO

12(4)(a)

it does not hold that information when an applicant’s request is received

ICO

12(4)(b)

the request for information is manifestly unreasonable

ICO

12(4)(c)

the request for information is formulated in too general a manner

ICO

12(4)(d)

the request relates to material which is still in the course of completion, to unfinished documents or to incomplete data

ICO

12(4)(e)

the request involves the disclosure of internal communication

ICO

12(5)(a)

Adversely affect international relations, defence, national security or public safety

ICO

12(5)(b)

Adversely affect the course of justice, the ability of a person to receive a fair trial or the ability of a public authority to conduct an inquiry of a criminal or disciplinary nature

ICO

12(5)(c)

Adversely affect intellectual property rights

ICO

12(5)(d)

Adversely affect the confidentiality of the proceedings of that or any other public authority where such confidentiality is provided by law

ICO

12(5)(e)

Adversely affect the confidentiality of commercial or industrial information where such confidentiality is provided by law to protect a legitimate economic interest

ICO

12(5)(f)

Adversely affect the interests of the person who provided the information where that person:

  1. was not under, and could not have been put under, any legal obligation to supply it to that or any other public authority
  2. did not supply it in circumstances such that that or any other public authority is entitled apart from these Regulations to disclose it
  3. has not consented to its disclosure

ICO

12(5)(g)

Adversely affect the protection of the environment to which the information relates

ICO

13

the information requested includes personal data of which the applicant is not the data subject

ICO

 

All EIR Exceptions require a Public Interest Test.