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Mr L and the Department of Social Protection (FOI Act 2014)

Case Number: 160267

Whether the Department was justified in refusing the applicant's FOI request for information relating to a disablement pension claim on the ground that the request was vexatious

Conducted in accordance with section 22(2) of the FOI Act by Stephen Rafferty, Senior Investigator, who is authorised by the Information Commissioner to conduct this review

Background

On 4 April 2016, the applicant submitted to the Department what he considered to be a request under the FOI Act for answers to a number of questions relating to medical reports he submitted in connection with a claim for an increase in his disablement pension. By letter dated 3 May 2016, the Department refused his request on the ground that it was vexatious, in light of the many previous engagements it had with the applicant in respect of the invalidity pension claim. The applicant sought an internal review of that decision on 6 May 2016. In its internal review decision, the Department affirmed the decision to refuse the request on the ground that it was vexatious. The applicant applied to this Office for a review of that decision on 20 June 2016.

I consider that this review should now be brought to a close by means of a formal binding decision. In conducting this review I have had regard to the correspondence between the Department and the applicant on the request, and to correspondence between this Office and both the applicant and the Department on the matter.

 

Scope of Review

This review is solely concerned with the question of whether the Department was justified in its decision to refuse the applicant's request under section 15(1)(g) of the FOI Act on the ground that the request was vexatious.

 

Analysis and Findings

Section 15(1)(g) of the FOI Act provides for the refusal of a request that is considered to be frivolous or vexatious, or to form part of a pattern of manifestly unreasonable requests.

This Office considers that the factors to be considered in assessing whether a request may be categorised as frivolous or vexatious include the following

the number of requests made - are they considered excessive by reasonable standards?
the nature and scope of the requests - are they excessively broad and varied in scope or unusually detailed?
the purpose of the requests, e.g. have they been made for their "nuisance value"; are they made without reasonable or legitimate grounds; and/or are they intended to accomplish some objective unrelated to the access process?
the intent of the requester - is the requester's aim to harass the public body?

I have adopted that same approach for the purpose of conducting this review.

This Office has previously dealt with a number of related applications for review submitted by the applicant relating to his disablement pension. It is clear to me that this application is also directly related to his ongoing efforts to challenge the amount of disablement pension that he was awarded by the Department. In its decision on his request, the Department stated that it has continually attempted to answer the applicant's questions and deal with his FOI requests to the best of its ability. It stated that doing this has involved attempts to interpret old, incomplete and/or archived records or notations. It further stated that all relevant records relating to his disablement pension have previously been released.

In my view, the issues arising in this review are very similar, and closely related, to those arising in Cases 140061, 140062, 140094, 140093, 140111, and 140114 which this Office discontinued on the ground that the requests formed part of a pattern of manifestly unreasonable requests from the same requester. This Office also affirmed the decision of the Department to refuse the applicant's later request for a statement of reasons relating to the same subject matter on the ground that it was vexatious in Case 150438.

It seems to me that the FOI request in this case refers to matters which have received significant prior attention. In essence, it seems to me that the applicant's primary purpose of submitting the request was to pursue his dispute that has been ongoing for a number of years. The applicant stated in his application to this Office that once he had received the name of the official in the Department that had made the relevant decision, he would cease all communication with this Office as he would "be able to take up all future matters with the individual concerned". I am satisfied that the applicant is using the FOI Act for a purpose unrelated to the right of access to records, i.e. it is being used tactically for the purpose of pursuing his dispute. Accordingly, I am find that that the Department was justified in deciding to refuse the request under section 15(1)(g) of the FOI Act on the ground that the request was vexatious.

 

Decision

Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2014, I hereby affirm the decision of the Department.

 

Right of Appeal

Section 24 of the FOI Act sets out detailed provisions for an appeal to the High Court by a party to a review, or any other person affected by the decision. In summary, such an appeal, normally on a point of law, must be initiated not later than four weeks after notice of the decision was given to the person bringing the appeal.

 

Stephen Rafferty
Senior Investigator