Guidance

Bona vacantia and freedom of information (FOI) requests

Check whether an exemption may apply to the information you want to request

The Bona Vacantia Division considers each request for information on its own merits. However, our general approach to several commonly made requests for information is set out below.

1. Can you tell me the value of a particular estate/give me details of the estate assets?

The Division does not generally publish or disclose the values of estates or the details of the assets making up an estate. The Division considers that publication of these details would, or would be likely to, help the commission of fraud and therefore prejudice the prevention or detection of crime. The reasons for the Division’s approach have been fully considered by the Information Commissioner. A copy of the decision notice, FS50532521, can be viewed on the website of the Information Commissioner’s Office

2. Can you tell me the identity of the successful claimant of an estate?

The Government Legal Department is subject to the Data Protection Act 1995. The details of a successful claimant will normally constitute the personal data of a living individual. The Division must process personal data in accordance with the Data Protection Principles set out in the DPA (DPA). The requirement to process data fairly will normally prevent disclosure of an individual’s personal data without their express consent.

3. Can you give me the details of the administrator of an estate that has been claimed?

Administrators have an expectation that any communication that they have with the Division will be treated in confidence. Where the administrator is an individual the DPA will also apply to their personal data. We therefore do not generally release the details of administrators under the Freedom of Information Act. However, if you have an interest in the estate, or represent potentially entitled beneficiaries, you should make this clear to us when making your request and we may disclose the administrator’s details to you outside the Act.

4. Requests for genealogical information.

The Division’s policy is to publish all genealogical information that it is not exempt from disclosure under the Act (for example, for data protection reasons) on the unclaimed estates list. If information is not on the list then it is usually either exempt from disclosure, or the Division does not hold it.

5. Requests for confirmation that an estate is claimable/solvent

The unclaimed estates list is updated on a daily basis and includes only estates which are solvent and remain available to be claimed. Requests for confirmation of this fact made under the Act are likely to be refused because the information is already available to the public on the unclaimed estates list and is therefore exempt from disclosure.

6. Requests for copies of birth/death/marriage certificates.

These records are available to the general public by making an application to the relevant registry office, and are therefore usually exempt from disclosure under the Act. Certificates can be obtained from the local registrar where the event took place or from one of the following general registries:

England and Wales

the General Registrar Office (GRO)
PO Box 2
Southport
Merseyside
PR8 2JD
telephone: 0845 603 7788

Scotland

the Register General General Registration Unit
Room 39
New Register House
Edinburgh
EH1 3YT

Northern Ireland

the Register General for Northern Ireland Oxford House
49-55 Chichester Street
Belfast
Northern Ireland
BT1 4HL

Republic of Ireland

the General Register office Government Offices
Convent Road
Roscommon
Republic of Ireland

Published 29 September 2015