FOI exemptions









There are two types of exemption under the Freedom of Information Act. Qualified Exemptions where the public interest is applied to all requests and Absolute Exemptions. 

The exemptions are in place for a number of reasons. These include protecting the United Kingdom and its interests at home and abroad, protecting the personal information of individuals, upholding the law and ensuring due process occurs and many more.

Exemptions can often be applied inappropriately and all requesters have the right to appeal the decisions given to them and challenge why they believe the exemptions have been applied incorrectly.

Here is a list of all the exemptions that can be applied to the Freedom of Information Act.

FOI Absolute Exemptions

  • Section 21 – Information accessible by other means (this often means it is already in the public domain, in which case the authority is obliged to direct you to where it is held.)
  • Section 23 – National Security – Information supplied by, or relating to, bodies dealing with security matters (a certificate signed by a Minister of the Crown is conclusive proof that the exemption is justified. There is a separate appeals mechanism against such certificates)
  • Section 32 – Court Records
  • Section 34 – Parliamentary Privilege – a certificate signed by the Speaker of the House, in respect of the House of Commons, or by the Clerk of the Parliament, in respect of the House of Lords is conclusive proof that the exemption is justified.
  • Section 36 – Effective Conduct of Public Affairs – so far as relating to information held by the House of Commons or the House of Lords
  • Section 40: Personal Information – where the applicant is the subject of the information. The applicant already has the right of ‘subject access’ under the Data Protection Act 1998; where the information concerns a third party and disclosure would breach one of the data protection principles
  • Section 41 – Information provided ‘In Confidence’
  • Section 44 – Prohibitions on disclosure – where a disclosure is prohibited by an enactment or would constitute contempt of court.


Exemptions where the public interest test applies

  • Section 22: Information Intended For Future Publication Exemption
  • Section 24: National security (other than information supplied by or relating to named security organisations, where the duty to consider disclosure in the public interest does not apply)
  • Section 26: Defence
  • Section 27: International relations
  • Section 28: Relations within the United Kingdom
  • Section 29: UK Economic Interests
  • Section 30: Investigations And Proceedings Conducted By Public Authorities
  • Section 31: Law Enforcement
  • Section 33: Audit Functions
  • Section 35: Formulation of government policy and Ministerial Communications
  • Section 36: Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs (except information held by the House of Commons or the House of Lords)
  • Section 37: Communications with Her Majesty, the Royal Family or concerning honours
  • Section 38: Health And Safety
  • Section 39: Environmental Information – as this can be accessed through the Environmental Information Regulations
  • Section 40: Personal information relating to a third party access request
  • Section 42: Legal Professional Privilege
  • Section 43: Commercial Interests