The Information Commissioner has issued a decision notice ordering a local authority to disclose a summary of data on the job application forms of other candidates, including the successful applicants, or alternatively copies of their application forms with personal data removed.

This decision resulted from an action by an unsuccessful job applicant applied under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) for Leicester City Council to disclose the following information (suitably redacted if necessary):

  • copies of the short-listing matrix documents, indicating the successful candidates;
  • copies of the application forms for each of the candidates interviewed, indicating the successful candidates;
  • copies of the candidate assessment forms and other interview notes completed by each of the recruitment panel, indicating successful candidates; and
  • copies of the two references provided for him.

The council had initially refused to disclose the application forms, citing the exemption in section 40 of the FOIA relating to personal data. There is a similar exemption in section 38 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

The Information Commissioner accepted that the release of the application forms in their entirety would constitute unfair processing under the Data Protection Act and therefore fell within the personal data exemption in section 40 of the FOIA. However, the Commissioner considered that the exemption did not justify withholding the information in its entirety. It ordered the Council to provide the claimant with either a general summary of the qualifications and experience of each applicant or to supply copies of the application forms having first removed all data that would enable the claimant to identify the other applicants.

Impact on employers

Whilst this was an unusual use of the FOIA, public authority employers who are subject to the FOIA in England or Scotland should be aware that job applicants could request application and interview data under the legislation. Documents relating to the recruitment process can also be requested in discrimination questionnaires and in any tribunal proceedings. Employers should therefore take care to ensure that any notes made during the process are in a suitable form for disclosure, however sought.