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Centrelink has requested information from my organisation about an individual. Will I breach the Privacy Act if I give out this information?

If Centrelink sends you a formal written notice requesting certain information, and the notice states that you are required to provide the information by law, and also states the law under which you are required to provide that information, then you will need to comply. You will not breach the Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act) by providing that information to Centrelink.

The Privacy Act limits when you can disclose personal information that you hold about an individual. Generally, you can only disclose personal information for the primary purpose for which it was collected.

There are, however, some exceptions to this general rule, including where a disclosure is required or authorised by or under an Australian law or a court/tribunal order (APP 6.2(b)). This means:

  • Required by law — where an Australian law or a court/tribunal order explicitly states that you must handle information in a particular way, then you have a legal obligation to  comply with the request and cannot choose to act differently;
  • Authorised by law — where an Australian law states that you are authorised to handle personal information in a particular way, then it is your choice whether to handle the information in that way or not.  You are permitted to take action but are not required to do so. An act or practice is not ‘authorised’ solely because there is no law or court/tribunal order prohibiting it.

Under the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999, Centrelink has the power to require information from others  in the course of determining certain matters, including social security payments and the issue of concession cards. Sections 192 to 197 of the Social Security (Administration) Act set out Centrelink's powers to require this information, including the legal requirements of a written notice requesting information, and the penalty for not complying with such a notice.

You may be asked to disclose information to other Commonwealth or State/Territory agencies or authorities from time to time. Again, where a legal obligation to provide information is specified in a formal written notice, you will need to comply.

It is very important that if you are unsure whether a requested disclosure is required by law, you should speak with the government department or authority that is seeking the information from you. They must be able to explain to you which law requires you to meet their request.

For more information on how the Australian Privacy Principles apply in the private sector, see the APP guidelines.