Freedom of Information


Exemptions and the public interest test


The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) contains 23 exemptions to the right of access.Some are designated ‘absolute’, meaning that if an absolute exemption applies, the duty to provide the information does not apply. Most are known as ‘qualified’ exemptions and require a public interest test to be applied, to decide whether the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in it being disclosed.

Where UCL considers that an exemption is deemed to apply to some or all of the information requested, the applicant will be notified in writing. The relevant exemption will be cited and any information that is not exempt will be provided.

Since the Act contains a presumption in favour of disclosure, in cases where there is equal weight between withholding information and disclosing it, the information will be disclosed.

An indication of the types of exemptions contained within the Act which might apply to UCL are listed below.

Absolute Exemptions

In cases were the applicant has no legal right of access to the information at all, for instance information supplied by or relating to bodies dealing with security matters or information covered by parliamentary privilege.

In other cases, for instance information available to the applicant by other means or personal information relating to the applicant, it may be possible to obtain the information by alternative means although not under FOI.

  • s.21 Information reasonably accessible to the applicant by other means
  • s.23 Information supplied by, or relating to, bodies dealing with security matters
  • s.32 Court records
  • s.36 Prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs*
  • s.40 Personal information
  • s.41 Information provided in confidence
  • s.44 Prohibitions on disclosure
Qualified Exemptions

These are subject to the public interest test

In cases where UCL has identified the possibility of applying an exemption, the university must consider the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.

  • s.22 Information intended for future publication
  • s.30 Investigations and proceedings conducted by public authorities
  • s.31 Law enforcement
  • s.36 Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs*
  • s.38 Health and safety
  • s.39 Environmental information
  • s.42 Legal professional privilege
  • s.43 Commercial interests

*In determining whether disclosure would be likely to prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs (Section 36 of the Act), and the balance of the public interest, the designated Qualified Person will decide. In UCL this is the Provost. For a full listing of the exemptions and more detailed guidance are available from the Information Commissioners’ Office website at: