At a glance
The Act allows you refuse a request if it is vexatious ie where the request is likely to cause a disproportionate or unjustifiable level of distress, disruption or irritation.
You can also refuse a request which seeks the same, or substantially the same information, as the applicant has previously requested, unless a reasonable time has passed between the requests.
Usually, you will still need to send the applicant a refusal notice telling them their request is vexatious or a repeat. However where you have sent the applicant such a notice in response to an earlier request, you may not need to send another.
Any future request from the same applicant still needs to be considered on its own merits, it can simply be ignored.
- When can we refuse a request as vexatious?
- When can we refuse a request because it is repeated?
- What if we want to refuse a request as vexatious or repeated?
As a general rule, you should not take into account the identity or intentions of a requester when considering whether to comply with a request for information. You cannot refuse a request simply because it does not seem to be of much value. However, a minority of requesters may sometimes abuse their rights under the Freedom of Information Act, which can threaten to undermine the credibility of the freedom of information system and divert resources away from more deserving requests and other public business.
You can refuse to comply with a request that is vexatious. If so, you do not have to comply with any part of it, or even confirm or deny whether you hold information. When assessing whether a request is vexatious, the Act permits you to take into account the context and history of a request, including the identity of the requester and your previous contact with them. The decision to refuse a request often follows a long series of requests and correspondence.
The key question to ask yourself is whether the request is likely to cause a disproportionate or unjustifiable level of distress, disruption or irritation.
Bear in mind that it is the request that is considered vexatious, not the requester. If after refusing a request as vexatious you receive a subsequent request from the same person, you can refuse it only if it also meets the criteria for being vexatious.
You should be prepared to find a request vexatious in legitimate circumstances, but you should exercise care when refusing someone’s rights in this way.
For further information, read our more detailed guidance: