The Freedom of Information Act contains a number of exemptions where the disclosure of information would cause prejudice or harm to the University, an individual or a third party. The Information Commissioner's Office provides further detailed guidance on all the available exemptions under the Act.

The exemptions most relevant to the University's work are summarised below:

Section 21 - Information accessible to applicant by other means

As the wording suggests, this exemption is applicable where information is already available from another source. This could be publication on the University's website or availability on request from a third party (such as HESA). Information may be reasonably accessible to the applicant even if a fee is required.

Section 22 - Information intended for future publication

Information that is held by the University but is due to be published in future (whether the date has been determined or not) is exempt from disclosure, subject to a public interest test. The Intellectual Property Act 2014 created a new exemption at section 22a of Freedom of Information Act that specifically protects pre-publication research data.

Section 38 - Health and safety

This exemption can be engaged where the disclosure of information would, or would be likely to, endanger the physical or mental health or safety of any individual. This exemption is subject to a public interest test.

Section 40 - Personal information

The vast majority of Freedom of Information requests that involve personal data will be exempt from disclosure where such a disclosure would breach the Data Protection Act. There is a level of public interest in certain information relating to senior members of staff, such as salaries and expenses, being disclosed.

Section 41 - Information provided in confidence

Information is exempt from disclosure if it was obtained by the University from a third party and the disclosure of the information would constitute an actionable breach of confidence. This does not mean a document cannot be disclosed if an internally generated document has "confidential" written on it.

Section 43 - Commercial interests

As the higher education sector has become more competitive in recent years, it has been recognised that universities can have legitimate commercial interests to protect. Information can be withheld under this exemption if its disclosure would cause the University (or one of its partners) commercial prejudice, following a public interest test.