Mr X c/o Y Solicitors and the Department of Social Protection

JudgeElizabeth Dolan Senior Investigator
Judgment Date15 October 2015
Case OutcomeThe Senior Investigator found certain of the records at issue to be outside the scope of this review. She found that section 37(7) of the FOI Act applied to those that were under review, in they contained the joint personal information of the applicant and a number of other parties. She found the public interest in protecting the rights to privacy of the other parties to whom the records relate to outweigh the public interest in release in the circumstances of this case.
CourtInformation Commission
Record Number150187
RespondentThe Department of Social Protection
Whether the Department justified in refusing access to records concerning the applicant's request for all documents retained on its systems relating to him
Conducted in accordance with section 22(2) of the FOI Act, by Elizabeth Dolan, Senior Investigator, who is authorised by the Information Commissioner to conduct this review

On 10 February 2015, the applicant made an FOI request, through his solicitors, for "a copy of all documents [the Department retains] on [its] system(s) relating to him."

The Department's decision of 23 February 2015 told the applicant that it was granting his request in part. It provided him with a schedule of the various records it had considered relevant to the request. The Department withheld a number of records, some in full and some in part, under sections 35 and 37 of the FOI Act, on the basis that they contained information provided in confidence and/or third party personal information.

On 8 April 2015, the applicant sought an internal review of the Department's refusal of 15 records that it had fully withheld (records 4; 14; 33; 36; 37; 39; 43; 49; 51; 71; 73; 74; 75; 78; and 96). He said that he wished to see them in order to address the Department's refusal to pay Child Benefit to him. The Department's internal review decision of 23 April 2015 affirmed its refusal of the 15 records concerned.

On 17 June 2015, the applicant made a request to this Office for a review of the Department's decision. He said that no evidence had been put forward to suggest that the information in the records had been given in confidence; that he had a right to reply to information he believed to have been provided by a particular third party, which he considered "may well be entirely false"; that he was being denied an opportunity to exercise his right to have the relevant records amended; and that he believed the exception at section 37(2)(a) applied to any information that may be exempt under section 37(1) of the FOI Act.

On 2 July 2015, the applicant was asked to pay a statutory fee to enable the review to encompass records which do not contain only personal information relating to the applicant concerned (the FOI Act 2014 (Fees) (No. 2) Regulations 201 refer) . He did not do so. On 24 July 2015, he was notified that his application for review was accepted. Submissions were invited from him, but he did not reply.

I have now decided to conclude my review by way of binding decision. In carrying out my review, I have had regard to the above; to correspondence between this Office and the Department, and to copies of the records at issue, which were provided to this Office for the purposes of this review. I have had regard also to the provisions of the FOI Act.

Scope of the Review

This review is confined to whether or not the Department has justified its refusal of access to the 15 records at issue.


Section 37(7)
Section 43(3) of the FOI Act requires me to be circumspect in my description of the records at issue.
Having examined them, however, I do not consider any to contain personal information solely about the applicant.

I am satisfied that records 4 and 96 entirely pertain to third parties and contain only the personal information of those parties. As the applicant did not pay the required fee, these records are outside the scope of my review and I do not intend to deal further with them.

The 13 remaining records pertain to the applicant and others.

I consider the details about the applicant to be inextricably linked to details about the other parties referred to in the 13 records concerned and that it is not possible to extract any information from these records that pertain to the applicant alone. Accordingly, these records contain what is generally described as "joint personal information" of the applicant and other parties. I find that these records are, accordingly, exempt under section 37(7) of the FOI Act. Section 37(7), subject to other provisions of section 37, provides for the mandatory refusal of a record that contains the personal information of the person making the FOI request and that of another party or parties.

In so far as any of these records contain information about the applicant's minor children and/or the applicant, they also contain personal information of other parties. Therefore, no right of access arises to the records concerned under section 37(8)(a) of the FOI Act.

Section 37(2)
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