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FoI: exemptions and exceptions

Exemptions deal with instances where a public authority may withhold information under the Freedom of Information Act or Environmental Information Regulations. Exemptions mainly apply where releasing the information would not be in the public interest, for example, because it would affect law enforcement, harm commercial interests.   For exceptions to the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, please see the information at the bottom of this page.  

Types of exemption

There are two types of exemption:

Qualified exemptions are those where information, even though it falls into an exempt category such as investigations and proceedings conducted by public authorities, may still have to be released if it is considered that it is in the 'public interest' to release the information.  

Absolute exemptions: mean that the authority does not have to consider what is in the public interest and should not release the information. In some instances, the council will not have to confirm or deny whether it holds the information or not.  

A full list of exemptions is available from the Information Commissioner's website (external link).

If a document is exempt

If a document contains some pieces of exempt information, those pieces of information may be withheld, but the rest of the document will still be released.

  • If we need to consider whether the information from a request should be released, we will tell you within 20 working days. We will also tell you when we expect to provide the final response.
  • If you make a request for information and it is withheld, we will explain why it has been withheld.   Environmental Information exceptions

There are some exceptions that can be applied to environmental information. A public interest test similar to the FOI Act will need to be applied, that is, the information should be released even if it is excepted if it is in the public's interest that the information should be disclosed.

The exceptions include:

  • where West Lancashire Borough Council doesn't hold the information  
  • the information is incomplete, or in the course of completion  
  • the information is confidential where such confidentiality is provided by law
  • where the information also relates to a person. If it related to the person requesting the information, it becomes a Subject Access Request under the Data Protection Act. Where it relates to a third party, they must give permission to disclose the information.