Section 14(1) states
Section 1(1) does not oblige a public authority to comply with a request for information if the request is vexatious.
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.
Most people exercise their right of access responsibly. However, a few may misuse or abuse FOIA by submitting requests which are intended to be annoying, disruptive or have a disproportionate impact on a public authority.
The ICO 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.
Section 14(1) is designed to protect public authorities by allowing you to refuse any requests which have the potential to cause a disproportionate or unjustified level of disruption, irritation or distress.
The emphasis on protecting public authorities’ resources from unreasonable requests was acknowledged by the Upper Tribunal in the leading case on section 14(1), Information Commissioner vs Devon County Council & Dransfield  UKUT 440 (ACC), (28 January 2013). It defined the purpose of section 14 as follows:
“The purpose of Section 14…must be to protect the resources (in the broadest sense of that word) of the public authority from being squandered on disproportionate use of FOIA…” (paragraph 10).
Although satisfying section 14(1) is a high hurdle this does not mean that you can only apply it in the most extreme circumstances, or as a last resort. You should consider using it if, after taking account of all the circumstances, you believe the request is disproportionate or unjustified.
It is important to remember that you can only apply section 14(1) to the request itself, and not the individual who submits it. You cannot, therefore, refuse a request on the grounds that the requester themself is vexatious. Similarly, you cannot refuse a new request solely on the basis that you have classified previous requests from the same individual as vexatious.
Section 14(1) is concerned with the nature of the request rather than any damage releasing the requested information may have. If you are concerned about any possible prejudice that might arise from disclosure, then you need to consider whether any of the exemptions listed in Part II of FOIA apply.
You also need to carefully distinguish between FOI requests and requests for the individual’s own personal data. If a requester has asked for information relating to themselves, you should deal with the request as a subject access request under the Data Protection Act 2018 and the UK General Data Protection Regulation.
You can read more about how to handle a subject access request in our Guide to data protection, Right of access.