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Council fails to respond to request for information

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Copeland Borough Council have been instructed to comply with the Freedom Of Information Act by the Information Commissioner's Office. The council had refused to comply with a request for information on the basis that it was vexatious.
  • An anonymous female lodged a complaint with the ICO, having held a belief that the Mayor of the council had failed to register a pecuniary interest within 28 days of being elected.
The ICO said:
  1. The Council failed to provide sufficient evidence to support the decision to refuse the request for information.
  2. The Council must issue a fresh response to the request.
  3. Failure to comply may result in the Commissioner making written certification of this fact to the High Court pursuant to section 54 of the Act and may be dealt with as a contempt of court.
On 29 January 2019, the complainant wrote to the Council and asked:
Can you please confirm that the Mayor failed to register a disclosable pecuniary interest he had, within 28 days of being elected?
The Council provided the Commissioner with very limited evidence and arguments to support its position that the request in this case was vexatious.

The complainant informed the Commissioner that the request sought information relating to her belief that the Mayor failed to register a disclosable pecuniary interest within 28 days of being elected.
  • Specifically she alleged that the Mayor failed to register his wife’s employment with a local estate agent. She stated that this was a possible breach of both the Councillor Code of Conduct and section 30 of the Localism Act 2011.
  • The complainant argued that there was a legitimate interest in holders of public office being held to account publicly for their conduct.The complainant told the Commissioner that she believed the real reason the Council refused her request was because it would reveal "the possibility of the Mayor having committed a crime and then to have sought to have covered it up by the alteration of documents."

The Commissioner’s Decision

The Commissioner considered both the complainant and the Council’s arguments in order to reach a decision. However, the Council’s representations in this case were very brief.

In its initial response, the Council stated that it did not regard the request to be vexatious when considered in isolation. Instead, it argued that when considered alongside the context and history of the requester’s communications with the Council the request was clearly vexatious. The Council’s initial response stated that the complainant had made derogatory references about the Council and its staff. However, the Council did not provide any evidence to support either of these assertions, such as a log of correspondence or requests, or examples of particular correspondence.

The Council’s initial response stated that the complainant had made derogatory references about the Council and its staff. However, the Council did not provide any evidence to support either of these assertions, such as a log of correspondence or requests, or examples of particular correspondence.

The Commissioner did not consider that the Council had outlined the detrimental impact of complying with the request. Furthermore, it did not explain why any impact would be unjustified or disproportionate in relation to the request itself and its inherent purpose or value.

The supporting evidence the Council provided in this case was two letters, both of which the Council sent to the complainant after it had already refused the request. The Commissioner considers that public authorities may take into account any evidence it has about events and correspondence which led up to the request being made. It may also take into consideration anything that happens within the period during which it is dealing with the request. However, anything that happens after this cut off point will not usually be relevant. Therefore, these letters cannot be considered as evidence to support the Council’s decision to refuse this request on the grounds that it is vexatious.

The Commissioner concluded that the Council had failed to provide sufficient evidence or arguments to support its assertion that the request in this case was vexatious. The Commissioner’s decision is that the Council was not entitled to rely upon section 14(1) of the FOIA to refuse to comply with this request. The Council is now required to issue a fresh response to the Freedom Of Information Request.


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Cleator Moor | Cumbria: Little Ireland: Council fails to respond to request for information
Council fails to respond to request for information
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Cleator Moor | Cumbria: Little Ireland
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