Line to take - LTT138 - Degree of similarity required in order to aggregate requests

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  • FOI/EIR: FOI
  • Section/Regulation: s12(4)
  • Issue: Degree of similarity required in order to aggregate requests
  • Source: IT, Policy Team
  • Details: Ian Fitzsimmons / Department for Culture, Media and Sport (17 June 2008)
  • Related Lines to Take: n/a
  • Related Documents: EA/2007/0124
  • Contact: RM
  • Date: 04/12/2008
  • Policy Reference: LTT138
  • © Copyright Information Commissioner's Office, re-used with permission
  • Original source linked from here: LTT


Line to take

The test for aggregation under Regulation 5 of the Fees Regulations is very wide. The requests need only relate to any extent to the same or similar information.

Requests will be similar where there is an overarching theme or common thread running between them in terms of the nature of the information that has been requested.

Further Information

Section 12(4) of the FOIA states:

The Secretary of State may by regulations provide that, in such circumstances as may be prescribed, where two or more requests for information are made to a public authority—
  • by one person, or
  • by different persons who appear to the public authority to be acting in concert or in pursuance of a campaign,
the estimated cost of complying with any of the requests is to be taken to be the estimated total cost of complying with all of them”.

Statutory Instrument 2004 No. 3244 “The Freedom of Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations 2004” prescribes the circumstances in which requests can be aggregated as follows:

Regulation 5(2)

This regulation applies in circumstances in which —
  • the two or more requests referred to in paragraph (1) relate, to any extent, to the same or similar information, and
  • those requests are received by the public authority within any period of sixty consecutive working days

This line to take is concerned with the degree of similarity that is required to meet the condition at 5(2)(a) of the regulations.

Ian Fitzsimmons and Department for Culture, Media and Sport

In the above case, the complainant asked for the following information:

(1) Please provide a copy of all the expense statements submitted by Mrs Sue Street for the past two years. Such statements should be authorised and certified by a named official/manager.
(2) Please provide details and a copy of all the records of all the hospitality received by Mrs Sue Street in her role as permanent secretary at the DCMS for the past two years.
(3) Please provide a copy of the record of all matters discussed and arising from 1) and 2) above.
(4) Please provide details of all expense statements submitted by Tessa Jowell to the DCMS and any other government department for the past two years.
(5) Please provide details of all hospitality received from the BBC by Tessa Jowell for the past two years.
(6) Please provide a copy of the record of all the matters discussed and arising from 4) and 5) above”

At paragraph 38 of the Tribunal Decision, the complainant argued that his requests could not be aggregated because they related to different “topics” (expenses, hospitality and meeting notes) and related to two different individuals in different occupational categories. This argument was rejected by the Tribunal that made the following general observation at paragraph 43:

The test in Regulation 5 of the Fees Regulations seems to us to be very wide; the requests need only relate to any extent to the same or similar information [Tribunal emphasis]”.

The Commissioner made the following arguments that were all accepted by the Tribunal as showing that the requests related to a significant extent to the same or similar information with the exception of argument 5:

  • All the requests related to expenses of the Permanent Secretary of the DCMS or the Secretary of State

Therefore, requests will be similar where there is an overarching theme or common thread running between them in terms of the nature of the information that has been requested. The fact that requests concern different individuals does not mean that they cannot be similar.

  • The Appellant himself stated that the requests all related to the relationship between the BBC and the DCMS

Requests will be similar if they relate to a relationship between two parties. We can also take into account information revealed by the complainant that suggests the requests are similar in terms of the information he or she is seeking to uncover where this is not obvious from the requests in isolation.

  • Request (3) was expressly stated to relate to requests (1) and (2), while request (6) was expressly stated to relate to requests (4) and (5)

Where an applicant expressly relates one request to another in terms of the nature of the information being requested, this can support the case for aggregation.

  • Save for the identity of the person about whom the requests were made, requests (1) to (3) mirrored requests (4) to (6).

On occasion, an applicant may adopt the same wording for some requests while changing only certain details as in the above example where the complainant changed the name of the person with whom the requests were concerned. This obviously highlights that the nature of the information being requested is the same or similar and supports the case for aggregation.

  • The request was expressly headed “Request for Information” in the singular.

In a footnote to paragraph 43, the Tribunal stated that it had not been persuaded that the fact that multiple requests are headed in the singular is a relevant consideration for the purposes of deciding whether requests relate to the same or similar information.