The ICO exists to empower you through information.

At a glance

If you are relying on an exemption, you must issue a written refusal notice within the standard time for compliance, specifying which exemptions you are relying on and why.

If you have already done a public interest test, you should explain why you have reached the conclusion that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure.

If you are claiming extra time to consider the public interest test, you will not be able to give a final refusal notice at this stage, but you should explain which exemptions you are relying on. If your final decision is to withhold all or part of the information, you will need to send a second refusal notice to explain your conclusion on the public interest test.

If you are withholding information but are still required to reveal that you hold the information, you should also remember to do this.

In brief

What do we have to include in a refusal notice?

You must refuse requests in writing promptly or within 20 working days (or the standard time for compliance) of receiving it.

In the refusal notice you should:

  • explain what provision of the Act you are relying on to refuse the request and why;
  • give details of any internal review (complaints) procedure you offer or state that you do not have one; and
  • explain the requester’s right to complain to the ICO, including contact details for this.

For further information, read our more detailed guidance:

What if we are withholding only parts of a document?

Often you can withhold only some of the information requested. In many cases, you can disclose some sections of a document but not others, or you may be able to release documents after having removed certain names, figures or other sensitive details (called ‘redaction’).

The Act does not lay down any rules about redaction. The following are guidelines for good practice.

  • Make sure redaction is not reversible. Words can sometimes be seen through black marker pen or correction fluid. On an electronic document, it is sometimes possible to reverse changes or to recover an earlier version to reveal the withheld information. Ensure that staff responding to requests understand how to use common software formats, and how to strip out any sensitive information. Take advice from IT professionals if necessary.
  • In particular, take care when using pivot tables to anonymise data in a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet will usually still contain the detailed source data, even if this is hidden and not immediately visible at first glance. Consider converting the spreadsheet to a plain text format (such as CSV) if necessary.
  • Give an indication of how much text you have redacted and where from. If possible, indicate which sections you removed using which exemption.
  • Provide as much meaningful information as possible. For example, when redacting names you may still be able to give an indication of the person’s role, or which pieces of correspondence came from the same person.
  • As far as possible, ensure that what you provide makes sense. If you have redacted so much that the document is unreadable, consider what else you can do to make the information understandable and useful for the requester.
  • Keep a copy of both the redacted and unredacted versions so that you know what you have released and what you have refused, if the requester complains.

For further information, read our more detailed guidance:

You may also wish to refer to the Redaction Toolkit produced by the National Archives.