‘Fabulous’ Bristol Resident Hits Back at ‘Vexatious’ FOI

Issues surrounding the handling of FOI requests at Bristol City Council continues

A Bristol resident has taken umbrage at Bristol City Council labelling her Freedom of Information (FOI) request as ‘vexatious’ by telling them that most people think she is ‘fabulous’.

The resident had been requesting information regarding Special Educational Needs (SEN). This is a subject that has been historically difficult for residents to obtain information about.

Hayley Evans was requesting information regarding the Education Health Care Needs Assessment (EHCNA) through the platform What Do They Know.

She asked: ‘In accordance with Regulation 6.1(h) of The Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014 a parent may ‘reasonably requests that the local authority seek advice from’ any person during an EHC Needs Assessment.

‘Please could you inform me of the criteria that BCC apply when determining what constitutes a “reasonable” request, I assume this is written into a SOP so please provide that document.

‘I would also like a copy of every SOP that BCC SEND team use for every aspect of the EHCP process.’

But Bristol City Council in response stated that they found her requests for information relating to SEN as ‘vexatious’ and banned her from any further requests regarding Bristol SEN.

They replied: ‘Bristol City Council has determined that your requests for information in relation to SEN (Special Educational Needs) are vexatious in accordance with section 14(1) of the act. As such, Bristol City Council will not deal with any further requests from you about SEN and including previous requests we already have
from you.’

Evans has since asked for an internal review of the FOI ahead of taking it to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Twitter user Bristol Citizen, highlighted the exchange on Twitter.

In the online discussion, the Twitter user expressed concern over the way Bristol City Council are currently handling FOIs stating: ‘Perhaps a Scrutiny Commission needs to look at the management of FoIS? BCC is not acting in the spirit of the act.’

The Bristol Citizen also called it a ‘systematic undermining of the law’ continuing: ‘What are councillors for if not to ensure their officers are following the law? This is currently wholesale institutional failure.’

In Evan’s response to the council she said: ‘As Section 14(1) of the Freedom of Information Act can only be applied to the request itself and not the individual who submitted it I assume these numbers relate to specific requests. An authority cannot, therefore, refuse a request on the grounds that the requester is vexatious. Generally most people think I am fabulous, so I certainly hope that isn’t the case.

‘I am really sorry if the requests are placing a burden in any way, it would be really helpful if the information I requested was available within the public domain so I did not have to make FOIs. But unfortunately the data available publicly isn’t kept up to date or doesn’t always show the whole picture. And I have previously asked for other information to be made available on the Local Offer (ie, what is a reasonable request in terms on a EHCNa Reg 6.1.h) but this hasn’t happened either.

‘The Freedom of Information Act was designed to give individuals a greater right of access to official information with the intention of making public bodies more transparent and accountable. My requests all serve this purpose.’

She continued in her response saying it was not her intention to cause ‘disruption, irritation or distress’ and asked if it would helpful if she only submitted two requests per morning in the future, supplying FOI legislation suggesting a ‘conciliatory approach’ would be best taken ahead of refusing requests as vexatious.

Bristol City Council have yet to response to her request for an internal review.

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