Whilst the vast majority of council information will be accessible under the Freedom of Information Act, the Act does include a number of exemptions to protect certain types of information. A full list is provided on the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) website .
The following list highlights the most common exemptions:
Section 21 – Information
Accessible by other means If information is already available e.g. on the website, the Council are able to provide a link to that site where the information can be obtained.
Section 40 – Personal Information
Information relating to council staff members official duties are not generally considered as personal information and are therefore not generally considered exempt (including work contact details, job descriptions, pay scales etc). However, more detailed information relating to the individual themselves may be exempt, such as qualifications and experience, personal contact details, exact salary etc. Where third party details are involved – consultation may be carried out, asking their views on the release. Where no consent is obtained and the release of the personal details is considered to be unfair on the individual/s concerned, the exemption may apply. ‘Personal’ information that is exempt may be removed or blacked out (redacted) from the response. Requests for truly personal information, relating to the applicant, will be dealt with as a Subject Access Request under the Data Protection Act 1998.
Section 41 – Provided in confidence
Section 41 of the Act sets out an exemption from the right to know where the information requested was provided to the public authority in confidence. Information must be truly confidential and have been provided to the council by an external third party. The confidentiality of a document may change over time so the timing of the request, and the age of the information will be considered before a decision is made as to whether the information is exempt. Not all information contained in document may necessarily be considered as ‘confidential’ – some information may be disclosable, with truly sensitive information being redacted or blacked out.
Section 43 – Commercial Interest
Section 43 of the Act sets out an exemption from the right to know if:
- The information requested is a trade secret.
- Release of the information is likely to prejudice the commercial interests of any person. (A person may be an individual, a company, the public authority itself or any other legal entity.)The ‘public interest test’ may outweigh the withholding of the information and you will need to justify.
Information may be considered exempt at the time of the request, but may not be so after time lapse e.g. contract information. A whole contract may not benefit from exemption, therefore some sections that need removing may be redacted or blacked.
The application of any exemptions will be determined by the relevant Departmental Information Guardian, with assistance from suitable colleagues. The Corporate Information unit will give advice on the use of any exemptions, to ensure consistency in the information we release.