FOI request detail

Request for three NTfL documents

Request ID: FOI-2575-1920
Date published: 20 March 2020

You asked

Thank you for providing NTfL documents for the Piccadilly line proposals. I now request the similar documents for the three other lines included in NTfL. I realise that these papers are dated, and that proposals have changed over time. Sponsor's Programme Requirements (SPR) - Waterloo and City Line - Document Reference: NTfL-2344.1.1-LUL-RPT-00059 - Livelink Nickname: 349485768 Sponsor's Programme Requirements (SPR) - Central Line - Document Reference: NTfL-2344.1.1-LUL-RPT-00060 - Livelink Nickname: 349482683 Sponsor's Programme Requirements (SPR) - Bakerloo Line - Document Reference: NTfL-2344.1.1-LUL-RPT-00062 - Livelink Nickname: 349486435 Details as shown in already supplied document: New Tube for London Sponsor’s Remit - NTfL-2344.3.4-LUL-RPT-0056

We answered

TfL Ref: 2575-1920

Thank you for your request received by Transport for London (TfL) on 25 November 2019.

Your request has been considered in accordance with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act and our information access policy. I can confirm that we hold the information you require

However, we are refusing your request under section 14(1) of the Freedom of Information Act, which provides an exemption to the disclosure of information where a request is considered to be ‘vexatious’. In reaching this conclusion we have drawn on guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), both in relation to the specific application of section 14 and in relation to FOI-handling more generally.

On the specific application of section 14(1) we have been steered by the ICO guidance on the use of that exemption that can be found on its website here:

You will note that this guidance includes the following advice to public authorities:

“Section 14(1) may be used in a variety of circumstances where a request, or its impact on a public authority, cannot be justified. Whilst public authorities should think carefully before refusing a request as vexatious they should not regard section 14(1) as something which is only to be applied in the most extreme circumstances”;

“Sometimes a request may be so patently unreasonable or objectionable that it will obviously be vexatious….In cases where the issue is not clear-cut, the key question to ask is whether the request is likely to cause a disproportionate or unjustified level of disruption, irritation or distress…This will usually be a matter of objectively judging the evidence of the impact on the authority and weighing this against any evidence about the purpose and value of the request”;

“The public authority may take into account the context and history of the request, where this is relevant”;

“The information Commissioner recognises that dealing with unreasonable requests can place a strain on resources and get in the way of delivering mainstream services or answering legitimate requests.”

“Section 14(1) is designed to protect public authorities by allowing them to refuse any request which have the potential to cause a disproportionate or unjustified level of disruption, irritation or distress”.

“…the concepts of ‘proportionality’ and ‘justification’ are central to any consideration of whether a request is vexatious”;

The guidance includes some specific indicators to help public authorities judge whether or not a case should be considered vexatious. This includes the following:

“Burden on the authority: the effort required to meet the request will be so grossly oppressive in terms of the strain on time and resources, that the authority cannot reasonably be expected to comply, no matter how legitimate the subject matter or valid the intentions of the requester”;

“Disproportionate effort: the matter being pursued by the requester is relatively trivial and the authority would have to extend a disproportionate amount of resources in order to meet the request.”

The guidance from the ICO makes it clear that public authorities should take into account the ‘context and history’ in which a request is made, and that this will “…often be a major factor in determining whether the request is vexatious”. This part of the guidance goes on to say that:

“In practice this means taking account of:

- Other requests made by the requester to that public authority (whether complied or refused).
- The number and subject matter of those requests”, and;

“A request which would not normally be regarded as vexatious in isolation may assume that quality once considered in context. An example of this would be where an individual is placing a significant strain on an authority’s resources by submitting a long and frequent series of requests, and the most recent request, although not obviously vexatious in itself, is contributing to that aggregated burden”.

It is this ‘aggregated burden’ that is central to our decision to apply the exemption set out in section 14(1) in response to your request. Given the ongoing pattern of requests leading to further requests all being focussed on operational documentation, the cumulative effect of these requests is that it ultimately provides a sustained burden and disruption to our colleagues across the organisation whose principal function is the running of transport services or the support services required to make that happen. Your requests invariably relate to matters that are clearly of a personal interest, but not necessarily of wider public interest and it is worth noting that the documentation you request is often several years old. It is frequently necessary for us to engage with specialist staff across several different business areas, including Investment Delivery Planning, TfL Security and TfL Commercial because of the wide ranging nature of the documentation and the potential concerns that need to be addressed prior to the disclosure of any information contained within the documents.

This requires the re-allocation and diversion of already limited resources and places a burden on a small number of personnel. We also believe that the purpose and value of your requests is not necessarily obvious, which brings into question whether it is a justified and proportionate use of our time to comply. The documents being requested are usually several years old, often of no current operational value due to changing organisational priorities and the subsequent requests appear to be generated only through mention of documents in previous responses.

Your latest request represents the fourth request that you have submitted to TfL this calendar year, each of which is a succession from the previous request for further documentation. Including your latest request, you have requested a total of 10 documents totalling over 600 pages. It is very likely that provision of this information would lead to further requests for yet more documents that happen to be referenced within those documents and therefore the aggregated burden would continue to increase.

Please be assured that our application of the section 14 exemption does not reflect a conclusion that it has been your deliberate intention to place an undue burden on TfL. However, in making any future request I would ask that you consider carefully what information is of most importance to you, and to take into account the guidance and advice provided by the ICO such as the “dos and don’ts” published on its website here:

You will note that the table halfway down that page includes the following advice to FOI applicants:

Do….“Give the authority ample opportunity to address any previous requests you have made before submitting new ones”;
Don’t… “Submit frivolous or trivial requests; remember that processing any information request involves some cost to the public purse”;
Don’t… “Disrupt a public authority by the sheer volume of information requested. Whether you are acting alone or in concert with others, this is a clear misuse of the Act and an abuse of your ‘right to know’”, and;
Don’t…”Deliberately ‘fish’ for information by submitting very broad or random requests in the hope it will catch something noteworthy or otherwise useful.”

Please see the attached information sheet for details of your right to appeal.

Yours sincerely,


Jasmine Howard
FOI Case Officer
Information Governance
Transport For London

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