Request for information relating to local authority resource consent fee
Request for variety of information relating to local authority resource consent fee—numerous previous requests for official information—some information refused under s 17(h)—requests not deemed frivolous or vexatious, but information could not be made available without substantial collation and research
A local authority had received numerous requests from a ratepayer relating to resource consent issues. This request was for various items of information relating to a proposed increase in the resource consent fee and to certain legal costs incurred by the local authority. Some of the information was made available, but the local authority declined the supply the balance on the grounds that it deemed the request to be frivolous and vexatious. In reaching this decision the local authority advised the requester that:
Although Council treats every request in isolation on its own particular merits and is very careful to do so, it cannot be disputed that you have swamped this Council with information requests over an extended period and tied up large amounts of officer time to the extent that it has impinged on the performance of the whole organisation. I also need to record that on a number of past official information requests where detailed information has been requested, Council has agreed to provide the information but only following a prepayment from you, that you have not subsequently followed through with your requests. Further you have on previous occasions had open access to our files but still continue to request information apparently on the same or similar matters.
I formally rule in terms of section 17(h) of LGOIMA that items … are in my view vexatious and therefore your request … is declined.
The local authority was invited to clarify what aspect of the nature of the request or the conduct of the requester led it to conclude that this particular request was vexatious. It was also asked to advise what information relevant to the request had previously been provided to the requester, what additional information it held on the subject and what time and resources were likely to be required to supply the additional information.
After considering the explanation provided by the local authority in support of its decision, it appeared that its major concern related to the amount of time it would take to retrieve the information at issue. Clearly the volume of requests from this requester were placing considerable demands on the local authority’s resources.
In the light of these submissions and clarification of the time and resources which would be required to provide the information at issue, section 17(f) of LGOIMA appeared to provide a more appropriate ground for refusing the request than section 17(h). The time it was estimated it would take to retrieve the information at issue would, in this case, have an adverse effect on the local authority’s ability to carry out its day to day functions. The local authority had limited administrative resources available to deal with requests for information of this nature and to divert them from their normal duties for an estimated total of 31 hours to respond to the request would impair the efficiency of the local authority’s administration. Although section 17(h) could not be relied on to refuse the request, reliance on section 17(f) was reasonable in the particular circumstances of this case.
This case note is published under the authority of the Ombudsmen Rules 1989. It sets out an Ombudsman’s view on the facts of a particular case. It should not be taken as establishing any legal precedent that would bind an Ombudsman in future.