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FOI agency resource 2: Calculating and imposing charges for FOI access requests

An agency or minister may impose a charge on an FOI applicant in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) and Regulations. A charge should fairly reflect the work involved in providing access to documents, and cannot be used to discourage someone from exercising their right to access. There is no charge where an individual is seeking their own personal information.

This agency resource aims to help decision makers identify the steps in calculating and imposing a charge. You should refer to the FOI Guidelines for full details: Part 4 (Charges for providing access).

Process for calculating and imposing a charge

Flow chart A sets out the key steps in calculating and imposing a charge. These steps should be taken only if the request meets the requirements of s 15(2) of the FOI Act.

Flow chart A

Visual representation of steps for calculating and imposing a charge; text version follows image

Identify documents

checkbox Identify all documents that potentially fall within the scope of the request.

  • If the potential number of documents is extremely large, consider using the request consultation process of s 24AB to reduce the scope of the request to more manageable proportions before estimating the charge.

Liability

checkbox Determine whether the applicant is liable to pay a charge.

  • If the applicant is seeking their own personal information – no charge.
  • If your agency has failed to meet the statutory timeframe – no charge.

Estimate charge

checkbox Estimate processing and access charges which fairly reflect the actual costs. Maximum accuracy at this stage saves work later. (See the Schedule in the FOI (Charges) Regulations and Part 4 of the FOI Guidelines.)

Consider waiver or reduction

checkbox If the applicant requested waiver or reduction of any charges in their original application, consider whether to exercise this discretion before notifying the applicant of any charge (See Flow chart B.) Otherwise, this stage normally follows the applicant’s response to a notice of charge.

Send notice of charge

checkbox Send the applicant a written notice, ensuring you include all information that is required by s 29, including:

  • that the applicant is liable to pay a charge
  • the preliminary assessment of the amount of the charge and the basis on which the assessment is made
  • that the applicant may contend the charge has been wrongly assessed, should be reduced or not imposed
  • the deposit required to be paid if the charge is imposed
  • that the applicant must within 30 days provide written notice of:
    • the applicant’s agreement to pay the charge
    • the applicant’s contention that the charge has been wrongly assessed, should be reduced or not imposed and their reasons for their contention
    • the applicant withdrawing the request for access
  • that if the applicant fails to give notice within 30 days, the request for access to the document will be taken to be withdrawn
  • the statutory processing period stops until the day the applicant notifies their agreement to pay, or alternatively pays all or part of the estimated charge as notified or as varied after the s 29 procedure or after internal or IC review.

If applicant agrees to pay charge

checkbox Resume and complete processing when you receive a deposit or full payment of the estimated charge.

checkbox Continue to monitor and record processing costs for later variation if the actual cost differs from estimate. If the actual cost of processing the request is less than the estimated charge, consider exercising your discretion under reg 10 of the FOI (Charges) Regulations to refund the difference. If the actual cost exceeds the estimated charge, you may increase the charge only if you have decided to allow access to all documents as requested, without any deletions.

If applicant contests estimated charge

checkbox Commence review of estimated charge to decide whether to exercise discretion to reduce or remit estimated charge. (See following Flow chart B.)

If applicant withdraws request

checkbox It is good practice to confirm in writing your understanding that the applicant has withdrawn their request.

Process for reduction or waiver of charges

Flow chart B sets out the key steps in processing a request for reduction or waiver of charges, either in the original request or after the notification of charge estimate.

Flow chart B

Visual representation of steps for reduction or waiver of charges; text version follows image

Consult applicant

checkbox You may wish to consult the applicant to ensure that the scope of the request cannot be narrowed to reduce the charge to an acceptable amount.

Assess

checkbox Analyse the evidence that the applicant supplied in support of their claim.

checkbox Determine any other information you require and seek it from the applicant or another available source. Comply with the Privacy Act 1988 when collecting personal information.

Consider required factors

checkbox You must assess

  • whether payment of the estimated charge would cause the applicant financial hardship.
  • whether disclosing the documents would either be in the public interest or in the interest of a substantial section of the public.

checkbox You may also consider any other relevant factors.

Make decision in time

checkbox Decide whether to maintain, reduce or not impose the estimated charge within 30 days of receiving the applicant’s response.

Decision not to reduce or waive charge

checkbox Notify the applicant in writing of your decision and the reasons for it. Include information about the applicant’s options for review of your decision or for making a complaint.

Decision to reduce or waive charge

checkbox Notify the applicant in writing of your decision.

Review

checkbox The applicant may seek internal review and/or IC review of a decision to decline to reduce a charge or not impose a charge (other than where the decision was made personally by the principal officer of an agency or by a minister. Those decisions can be subject to IC review).

Decision out of time

checkbox Your agency is deemed to have decided to impose the estimated charge if you do not decide within 30 days of receiving the applicant’s response. The applicant may seek IC review.

For further information

telephone: 1300 363 992
email: enquiries@oaic.gov.au
write: GPO Box 5218, Sydney NSW 2001
Or visit our website at www.oaic.gov.au