Curiosity Not Enough to Trigger Freedom of Information Duty
Lots of people would love to know what their neighbours are up to but mere curiosity is not enough to justify disclosure of information about them that may be in the possession of public authorities. A tribunal made that point in refusing to disclose full details of informal advice given to a householder by a local authority planning officer.
A council had a system whereby potential applicants for planning consent could, for a fee, receive preliminary advice from planning officers on the acceptability of their proposals. Such advice was not binding on the council and was not included in planning records that could be inspected by the public in general.
After the householder received such advice, her neighbour requested the council to disclose its terms. The council only consented to disclose the advice in redacted form. The neighbour’s complaint to the Information Commissioner was later rejected on the basis that there was no requirement to make the entirety of the advice public.
In rejecting the neighbour’s challenge to that ruling, the First-tier Tribunal found that the advice, having been paid for, was personal data relating to the householder and that she had an expectation of confidentiality. Its disclosure in full would cause distress and would not be fair. The neighbour’s curiosity as to the contents of the advice did not amount to a legitimate interest in its disclosure.