The ICO exists to empower you through information.

FOIA Schedule one, Part VI


Schedule One, Part VI of the FOIA provides that the BBC is a public authority for the purposes of the FOIA but it only has to deal with requests for information in some circumstances. The entry relating to the BBC states:
“The British Broadcasting Corporation, in respect of information held for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature.”

This means that the BBC has no obligation to comply with parts I to V of the FOIA where information is held for the purposes of journalism, art or literature. The Commissioner calls this situation “the derogation”. In this case the BBC is arguing that the requested information was held for the purpose of journalism.

The scope of the derogation was considered by the Court of Appeal in the case Sugar v British Broadcasting Corporation and another [2010] EWCA Civ 715, and later, on appeal, by the Supreme Court (Sugar (Deceased) v British Broadcasting Corporation [2012] UKSC 4). The leading judgment in the Court of Appeal case was made by Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury MR who stated that:

“ ….. once it is established that the information sought is held by the BBC for the purposes of journalism, it is effectively exempt from production under FOIA, even if the information is also held by the BBC for other purposes.” (paragraph 44), and that “….provided there is a genuine journalistic purpose for which the information is held, it should not be subject to FOIA.” (paragraph 46)

The Supreme Court endorsed this approach and concluded that if the information is held for the purpose of journalism, art or literature, it is caught by the derogation even if that is not the predominant purpose for holding the information in question.

In order to establish whether the information is held for a derogated purpose, the Supreme Court indicated that there should be a sufficiently direct link between at least one of the purposes for which the BBC holds the information (ignoring any negligible purposes) and the fulfilment of one of the derogated purposes. This is the test that the Commissioner will apply.

If a sufficiently direct link is established between the purposes for which the BBC holds the information and any of the three derogated purposes – i.e. journalism, art or literature - it is not subject to FOIA.

The Supreme Court said that the Information Tribunal’s definition of journalism (in Sugar v Information Commissioner (EA/2005/0032, 29 August 2006)) as comprising three elements, continues to be authoritative.

“1. The first is the collecting or gathering, writing and verifying of materials for publication.

2. The second is editorial. This involves the exercise of judgement on issues such as:

* the selection, prioritisation and timing of matters for broadcast or publication,

* the analysis of, and review of individual programmes,
* the provision of context and background to such programmes.

3. The third element is the maintenance and enhancement of the standards and quality of journalism (particularly with respect to accuracy, balance and completeness). This may involve the training and development of individual journalists, the mentoring of less experienced journalists by more experienced colleagues, professional supervision and guidance, and reviews of the standards and quality of particular areas of programme making.”

The Supreme Court explained that “journalism” primarily means the BBC’s “output on news and current affairs”, including sport, and that “journalism, art or literature” covers the whole of the BBC’s output to the public (Lord Walker at paragraph 70). Therefore, in order for the information to be derogated and so fall outside FOIA, there should be a sufficiently direct link between the purpose(s) for which the information is held and the production of the BBC’s output and/or the BBC’s journalistic or creative activities involved in producing such output.

The Commissioner adopts a similar definition for the other elements of the derogation, in that the information must be used in the production, editorial management and maintenance of standards of those art forms.

FOIA section 1 held / not held

The task for the Commissioner where a dispute arises over the extent of the recorded information that was held by a public authority at the time of a request is to determine whether, on the balance of probabilities, the public authority holds any information relevant to the request which it has not already disclosed to the complainant.

In making this determination, the Commissioner will consider the complainant’s evidence and argument and the actions taken by the public authority to check whether the information is held and he will consider any other reasons offered by the public authority to explain why the information is not held. He will also consider any reason why it is inherently likely or unlikely that information is not held.

The Commissioner is not expected to prove categorically whether the information was held; he is only required to make a judgement on whether the information was held on the civil standard of the balance of probabilities. Applying the civil test of the balance of probabilities is in line with the approach taken by the Information Tribunal when it considered the issue of whether information was held.

FOIA section 12 cost limit

Section 12(1) of FOIA states that a public authority is not obliged to comply with a request for information if the authority estimates that the cost of complying with the request would exceed the “appropriate limit” as set out in the Freedom of Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations 2004 (“the Fees Regulations”).

The Fees Regulations specify that the appropriate limit is set at £600 for central government and £450 for non central government public authorities. The Fees Regulations also specify that the cost of complying with a request must be calculated at the rate of £25 per hour.

This means that a central government department may refuse the request for information under consideration if it estimates that it will take longer than 24 hours to comply with it. For non central government public authorities the limit is 18 hours.

Regulation 4(3) of the Fees Regulations states that a public authority can only take into account the cost it reasonably expects to incur in carrying out the following permitted activities in complying with the request:

  • determining whether the information is held;
  • locating the information, or a document containing it;
  • retrieving the information, or a document containing it; and
  • extracting the information from a document containing it.

A public authority does not have to make a precise calculation of the costs of complying with a request; instead only an estimate is required. However, it must be a reasonable estimate. In accordance with the First-Tier Tribunal in the case of “Randall v Information Commissioner & Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency” EA/2007/0004, the Commissioner considers that any estimate must be “sensible, realistic and supported by cogent evidence”.

The task for the Commissioner when considering section 12 is to reach a conclusion as to whether the cost estimate made by the public authority was reasonable; in other words whether it estimated reasonably that the cost of compliance with the request would exceed the limit of £600 or £450. If it did then section 12(1) applied and it was not obliged to comply with the request.

Section 12 is not subject to a public interest test; if complying with the request would exceed the cost limit then there is no requirement under FOIA to consider whether there is a public interest in the disclosure of the information.

FOIA section 14 vexatious requests

The word “vexatious” is not defined in FOIA. However, as the Commissioner’s guidance on section 14(1) states, section 14(1) is designed to protect public authorities by allowing them to refuse any requests which have the potential to cause a disproportionate or unjustified level of disruption, irritation or distress.

FOIA gives individuals a greater right of access to official information in order to make bodies more transparent and accountable. As such, it is an important constitutional right. Therefore, engaging section 14(1) is a high hurdle.

However, the Commissioner recognises that dealing with unreasonable requests can strain resources and get in the way of delivering mainstream services or answering legitimate requests. These requests can also damage the reputation of the legislation itself.

The emphasis on protecting public authorities’ resources from unreasonable requests was acknowledged by the Upper Tribunal (UT) in the leading case on section 14(1), Information Commissioner vs Devon County Council & Dransfield [2012] UKUT 440 (AAC), (28 January 2013) (“Dransfield”). Although the case was subsequently appealed to the Court of Appeal, the UT’s general guidance was supported, and established the Commissioner’s approach.

Dransfield established that the key question for a public authority to ask itself is whether the request is likely to cause a disproportionate or unjustified level of disruption, irritation or distress.

The four broad themes considered by the Upper Tribunal in Dransfield were:

  • the burden (on the public authority and its staff);
  • the motive (of the requester);
  • the value or serious purpose (of the request); and
  • any harassment or distress (of and to staff).

However, the UT emphasised that these four broad themes are not a checklist, and are not exhaustive. They stated:

“all the circumstances need to be considered in reaching what is ultimately a value judgement as to whether the request in issue is vexatious in the sense of being a disproportionate, manifestly unjustified, inappropriate or improper use of FOIA” (paragraph 82).

FOIA section 40 personal information

Section 40(2) of FOIA provides that information is exempt from disclosure if it is the personal data of an individual other than the requester and where one of the conditions listed in section 40(3A)(3B) or 40(4A) is satisfied.

In this case the relevant condition is contained in section 40(3A)(a). This applies where the disclosure of the information to any member of the public would contravene any of the principles relating to the processing of personal data (the DP principles), as set out in Article 5 of the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UKGDPR).

The first step for the Commissioner is to determine whether the withheld information constitutes personal data as defined by the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA). If it is not personal data then section 40 of FOIA cannot apply.

Secondly, and only if the Commissioner is satisfied that the requested information is personal data, he must establish whether disclosure of that data would breach any of the DP principles.

Is the information personal data?

Section 3(2) of the DPA defines personal data as:

“any information relating to an identified or identifiable living individual”.

The two main elements of personal data are that the information must relate to a living person and that the person must be identifiable.

An identifiable living individual is one who can be identified, directly or indirectly, in particular by reference to an identifier such as a name, an identification number, location data, an online identifier or to one or more factors specific to the physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural or social identity of the individual.

Information will relate to a person if it is about them, linked to them, has biographical significance for them, is used to inform decisions affecting them or has them as its main focus.

The fact that information constitutes the personal data of an identifiable living individual does not automatically exclude it from disclosure under the FOIA. The second element of the test is to determine whether disclosure would contravene any of the DP principles.

The most relevant DP principle in this case is principle (a).

Would disclosure contravene principle (a)?

Article 5(1)(a) of the UK GDPR states that:

“Personal data shall be processed lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner in relation to the data subject”.

In the case of an FOIA request, the personal data is processed when it is disclosed in response to the request. This means that the information can only be disclosed if to do so would be lawful, fair and transparent.

In order to be lawful, one of the lawful bases listed in Article 6(1) of the GDPR must apply to the processing. It must also be generally lawful.

Lawful processing: Article 6(1)(f) of the UK GDPR

Article 6(1) of the UK GDPR specifies the requirements for lawful processing by providing that “processing shall be lawful only if and to the extent that at least one of the” conditions listed in the Article applies. One of the conditions in Article 6(1) must therefore be met before disclosure of the information in response to the request would be considered lawful.

The Commissioner considers that the lawful basis most applicable is basis 6(1)(f) which states:

“processing is necessary for the purposes of the legitimate interests pursued by the controller or by a third party except where such interests are overridden by the interests or fundamental rights and freedoms of the data subject which require protection of personal data, in particular where the data subject is a child”.

The Commissioner considers that the lawful basis most likely to be relevant in relation to a request for information under the FOIA is Article 6(1)(f); legitimate interests. In considering the application of this provision in the context of a request for information under FOIA it is necessary to consider the following three-part test:-

i. Legitimate interest test: Whether a legitimate interest is being pursued in the request for information;

ii. Necessity test: Whether disclosure of the information is necessary to meet the legitimate interest in question;

iii. Balancing test: Whether the above interests override the interests, fundamental rights and freedoms of the data subject.

The Commissioner considers that the test of ‘necessity’ under stage (ii) must be met before the balancing test under stage (iii) is applied.

Legitimate interests

In considering any legitimate interests in the disclosure of the requested information under the FOIA, the Commissioner recognises that such interests can include broad general principles of accountability and transparency for their own sakes as well as case specific interests.

Further, a wide range of interests may be legitimate interests. They can be the requester’s own interests or the interests of third parties, and commercial interests as well as wider societal benefits. They may be compelling or trivial, but trivial interests may be more easily overridden.

Right of appeal


Either party has the right to appeal against a decision notice to the First-tier Tribunal (Information Rights).

Information about the appeals process may be obtained from:

First-tier Tribunal (Information Rights)
GRC & GRP Tribunals,
PO Box 9300,

Tel: 0203 936 8963
Fax: 0870 739 5836
Email: [email protected]

If you wish to appeal against a decision notice, you can obtain information on how to appeal along with the relevant forms from the Information Tribunal website.

Any Notice of Appeal should be served on the Tribunal within 28 (calendar) days of the date on which the decision notice is sent.