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FOIstats guide — Quarterly and annual FOI Act statistical returns to the OAIC

September 2016

Revision date: 20 September 2016

NOTE: This version of the FOIstats guide relates to statistical returns from 1 July 2016.

A copy of all the questions in both the quarterly and annual returns is attached to this guide.

Key points

  • The Freedom of Information Act1982 (Cth) (FOI Act) requires the provision of information from all entities subject to the FOI Act for inclusion in the Annual Report of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC).
  • Entities subject to the FOI Act must provide quarterly and annual statistical returns to the OAIC, in relation to freedom of information matters, within statutory timeframes.
  • Separate returns need be completed for each Minister, Assistant Minister (or Parliamentary Secretary), Department and other government agency. If no FOI requests have been received during the period, a ‘Nil Return’ must be submitted.

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Who must complete a return?

For information on which entities are covered by the FOI Act, and therefore must complete a return, or have a return completed for them by the portfolio department, please see the FOI Guideline Part 2 — Scope of application of the Freedom of Information Act. You can email foistats@oaic.gov.au or contact our Enquiries Line on 1300 363 992 to find out if your organisation is already submitting returns.

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Reporting deadlines

Reporting deadlines for the provision of statistical information to the OAIC are established by section 5 of the Freedom of Information (Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 1982. The deadlines for submitting returns are:

For quarterly statistical returns about FOI requests and outcomes:

  • 1 July to 30 September: 21 October
  • 1 October to 31 December: 21 January
  • 1 January to 31 March: 21 April
  • 1 April to 30 June: 21 July

For the annual return about staff resources and other costs and comparisons with previous years

  • For each year ending on 30 June: 31 July

It is important that agencies comply with these deadlines, as the Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010 (the AIC Act) requires the Australian Information Commissioner to prepare the OAIC’s Annual Report as soon as practicable after 30 June each year. Summary information from the returns are included in the OAIC’s Annual Report and the full data set from agency returns, including agency comments, is now published separately on www.data.gov.au.

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How to complete returns

Returns are submitted through an internet portal: https://foistats.ag.gov.au/[1]

The information below provides guidance on how to use the portal to lodge quarterly and annual statistical returns. For more detailed information, or for help to resolve problems, please email: foistats@oaic.gov.au or phone our Enquiries line on 1300 363 992.

Logging on to the web portal

Each agency has its own logon with a User ID and Password. If you have forgotten your password you can request another automatically from the logon screen (this is sent to the email address stored in the database for the relevant agency). If you have forgotten or don’t know your User ID or you don’t receive a password after requesting one from the logon screen please contact the OAIC’s Enquiries line.

Agency contact details

Once logged into the portal the agency’s dashboard includes the following:

  • Agency Details: The name of the agency and portfolio, and the name and telephone number of a contact officer for the agency who is able to answer inquiries about the information supplied in the return. Where possible, please use a generic email address, for example foi@agency.gov.au, so that automated emails sent by the OAIC from the database will not be missed if a particular officer is on leave.
  • Password Change: Users can change their passwords themselves in the portal and should do so on a regular basis.

Note: For agencies administering other agency returns the first screen that appears when you logon lists all the agencies you administer, including your own. Please make sure that the contact details are up to date on your own agency entry as that is the email address that reminder and outstanding notices for all agencies administered by you will be sent to.

The quarterly returns

General

When submitting electronic returns you must enter your quarterly returns in sequential order. You cannot enter data for a later quarterly return until you have completed all earlier quarterly returns in sequence for the reporting year. You cannot amend returns from previous reporting years but you can amend all current year quarterly returns until the 21 July when the 4th quarter is due.

If the 1st quarter return ‘carry over’ figures from the previous financial year needs adjustment the OAIC’s Enquiries team have authority to make that change if you provide a written request to foistats@oaic.gov.au including the reason for the error.

Reconciling quarterly returns

Each quarterly return should be reconciled with the previous quarterly return to ensure that carry-overs of FOI requests have been made correctly. The database into which statistics are entered will not accept a return which is inconsistent with the previous return.

1 - Agency Quarterly Details

Dates

The financial year being reported and the quarter that you are going to complete are displayed. These are system-generated dates that cannot be changed by the user.

Abolition of an agency

There is a tick box if this is the last quarterly return for an agency because the agency is being abolished. Where an agency is abolished, it is a requirement of the winding up process that the agency provides the last quarterly and annual returns to the OAIC. The final returns, including an annual return, should be submitted as soon as practicable after the abolition of the agency and should not be left until the end of the reporting year. To submit a final quarterly return and an annual return, complete all relevant data fields and then check the box which asks ‘Is this your agency’s last quarterly return?’ and then select the ‘Save’ button.

Generally there should be no outstanding requests where an agency is being abolished (ie; 2D should be 0). All requests should have been finalised (including through being transferred to another agency). This requirements also applies to ministers, where a new ministry does not include a similarly titled minister/assistant minister.

Nil Returns

A ‘Nil Return’ must be submitted where there is no activity at all to report for the period, that is if there is no data to be entered in the quarterly return. It is not enough to just leave zeros in the data fields. To submit a Nil return, check the ‘Nil Return’box and confirm when prompted. This will clear all fields except the carry-over from the previous quarter.

2 - Request Numbers

A request for documents or information should be included in this part only if it satisfies the requirements of section 15 of the FOI Act. Do not include requests by current or former agency employees for access to their personnel records under section 15A of the FOI Act.

For the purpose of inclusion in the quarterly report, a request must be one which:

  • is in writing, and
  • states that the request is an application for the purposes of the FOI Act, and
  • provides such information as is reasonably necessary to enable identification of the documents requested by the applicant, and
  • gives details on how notices under the FOI Act may be sent to the applicant.

A communication requesting access to documents should be counted as one request, regardless of the number of documents or categories of documents to which access is sought, and the fact that documents may be held in different areas of an agency, for example ‘I request all files about me and also any document relating to the taxation of maintenance payments’.

A request for an internal review of an agency’s decision, or an appeal against an agency’s decision which is being considered by the Information Commissioner, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) or the Federal Court, are not ‘current requests’ for the purposes of Parts 2 - 7 of the quarterly return.

Agencies are asked to classify a request as for "Predominantly Personal Information" where personal information is the predominant kind of information sought. For this purpose, "Personal Information" includes both an applicant's own information and information about other individuals. ‘Personal information’ is defined in subsection 4(1) of the FOI Act by reference to the definition in the Privacy Act 1988. In summary, ‘personal Information’ means information or opinion about an identified individual or an individual who is reasonably identifiable.2A is a system-generated figure which brings forward the number of requests on hand from the previous quarter’s return in the portal. This should reflect the actual number of requests still being processed at the beginning of the quarter. Within a reporting year corrections can be made to the previous quarter’s figures if this carry over number is not correct. If the 1st quarter carry over from the previous year needs amendment the OAIC’s Enquiries team can action this after a written request with reasons is submitted to foistats@oaic.gov.au.

For the purposes of 2B in relation to transfers from another agency:

  • do not include partial transfers, and
  • include transfers in whole from the Australian Capital Territory under section 16 of the FOI Act.

2C is a system-generated figure from question 3 which records the number of requests where a decision on access was given during the quarter. It includes requests withdrawn during the quarter.

2D is a system-generated figure which reflects the sum of 2A and 2B less the figure in 2C.

3 - Processing of Requests

NOTE: There is an automated connection between question 3 and question 6 so you will not be able to save question 3 until you have completed question 6.

3 is where you record processing outcomes according to the type of decision made. These figures are added by the system and shown in 2C.

For the purposes of 3, where a decision has been made to grant access in full or in part and the applicant has been notified in writing, the request is to be regarded as finalised even if the relevant documents have not yet been forwarded to the applicant.

All requests where decisions were made allowing access in whole or part should be recorded whether or not:

  • access is deferred under section 21 of the FOI Act,
  • the applicant sought review of a decision granting access with deletions or with a charge for providing access to documents, or
  • the applicant indicated that, having regard to the charges imposed, the applicant no longer sought access.

3A covers all requests where a decision was made to grant access to the requested documents in full.

3B covers all requests where a decision was made to grant partial access. This includes where:

  • access was granted to an edited copy (see section 22, FOI Act) of a requested document, and/or
  • the request related to two or more documents, and access was refused to one or more documents.

3C covers all requests where the applicant was notified in writing that access was refused, including where access was refused because:

  • the documents sought were not subject to the FOI Act,
  • the documents sought were exempt documents (Part IV, FOI Act);
  • no relevant documents could be found in the possession of the agency (section 24A, FOI Act);
  • a ‘practical refusal reason’ existed in relation to the request (sections 24 and 24AA, FOI Act), for example if compliance with the request would involve a substantial and unreasonable diversion of resources, and the request and subsequent request consultation (section 24AB, FOI Act) failed to enable the request to be revised so that the practical refusal reason no longer existed.

For the purposes of 3Cdo not include:

  • requests where access is deemed to have been refused by virtue of subsection 15AC of the FOI Act because the time limit for notifying a decision has expired (a ‘deemed refusal’); or
  • requests where access in the form sought was refused but access in another form was granted.

For the purposes of 3D, only include requests transferred in full to another agency.

For the purposes of 3E, enter the number of requests which applicants have withdrawn or are taken to have been withdrawn. A request should be recorded as withdrawn only where:

  • the applicant has specifically indicated that the request has been withdrawn, or
  • section 29(2) of the FOI Act applies (that is where an applicant has failed to respond to an estimate of charges and the request is taken to have been withdrawn).

4 – Use of practical refusal

This data is to assist in understanding the practical refusal mechanism’s use. Include at 4A the number of requests that have been finalised during the period, where the applicant was initially notified in writing of an intention to refuse the request because a practical refusal reason existed (s24AB(2) of the FOI Act) and then at 4B how many of those requests were subsequently processed, other than through confirming the practical refusal or the request's withdrawal.

5 – Exemptions claimed

NOTE: The criteria for this question does not require agencies to determine the main or primary exemption claimed but to include all categories of exemptions claimed for each request finalised.

This data is to assist in understanding the use of the exemptions in the FOI Act.

For all requests finalised in the period please indicate at 5B to 5R a count of the number of finalised requests where that category of exemption was initially claimed, whether or not the exemption claimed was determinative of the outcome.

Please only record each category of exemption initially claimed once for each FOI request finalised even if the category was used multiple times in relation to that request.

5A will be the count of requests finalised where exemptions were not relevant or not claimed (for those requests finalised during the period).

6 - Response Time

NOTE: The main purpose of the question is to determine how many requests are not decided within the statutory timeframes laid out in the FOI Act and how long the delay is.

Agencies are reminded that even where a ‘deemed refusal’ has occurred because the statutory period has elapsed there is still an obligation on an agency to continue to process the request.

The response times in 6 refer only to initial decisions notifying the applicant that access was granted in full, in part, or was refused. Note that this figure is the total of 3A + 3B + 3C. It does not include those matters processed by transfer (3D) or withdrawal (3E). The system will not let you save unless the data in question 6 matches the data totals for 3A + 3B + 3C only.

The number of requests where the applicant has been notified of a primary decision within the applicable statutory time period, whether or not access was granted, should be recorded at 6A. The applicable statutory time period includes periods where the FOI Act states that the running of a time limit is suspended, for example under section 24AB(8) or section 31.

If the applicable statutory time period was not met, the time period within which the decision was notified after the statutory period had ended should be recorded at 6B, 6C, 6D or 6E, for example if the decision was 20 days after the statutory period ended then record it at 6B, if 75 days late then at 6D.

The period for 6B - 6E is the number of calendar days after the day the statutory period ends until the day of the dispatch of the notification of the access decision.

Where release is staged over a period of time because of the size or difficulty of a request, the response time refers to the notification of the decision. However, where the size or difficulty of a request has caused a series of decisions to be made, the relevant response time should be calculated by reference to the date of the last of the decisions.

7 - Processing Charges

NOTE: The FOI Act does not permit charges for requests where an applicant seeks access to their own personal information.

For 7A, enter the number of requests, whenever received, for which charges were notified during the quarter.

7B records the dollar amounts of charges notified during the quarter.

7C records the dollar amounts of charges collected during the quarter, irrespective of when the charges were notified. The amount should reflect the total of nominal charges net of remissions and refunds. The simple test for this part is how much cash was actually banked during the quarter.

Where charges were imposed ‘for access to information about individuals other than the applicant or imposed because the applicant’s personal information is contained in a document that also includes other personal information which cannot be disentangled from the applicant’s information the charges should be recorded in the column titled ‘Predominantly Personal Information’. All other charges should be recorded in the column titled ‘Other’.

7A - Disclosure Log

NOTE: This question gathers statistics from agencies and Ministers on the use of the disclosure log (section 11C of the FOI Act). It includes information about the number of entries added during the quarter and how the documents released can be accessed as well as information about the number of website visits to the disclosure log webpages.

Please only include data about the number of entries added to the agency’s disclosure log during the quarter as either A, B or C depending on how the document/information that was added to the disclosure log can be accessed.

A is where there is a link from the disclosure log entry to the same website (or the information/document released is actually on the disclosure log page itself), B where the link from the disclosure log goes to a separate website and C where the entry does not link to a document/information but instead provides information about how the document/information released can be accessed.

If the agency collects or can access information on how many unique visitors have accessed the disclosure log webpages and how many of those webpages were viewed please include that information at D and E or, if this information is not collected or accessible, tick the check box below E.

The ‘disclosure log’ webpages include the disclosure log index page/s and the webpages containing the released information/documents. Webpages in this context includes PDFs, RTFs, Excel documents etc kept on a publicly accessible website.

Your website development/maintenance area should know if this information is currently kept or able to be accessed.

Further information related to this question is available in the FOI Guideline Part 14 at paragraph 14.73.

8 - Review of Access Decisions

(Found on the second page of the return in the portal)

The FOI Act provides three[2] procedures for review of a decision refusing access in accordance with a request:

  • internal review by an agency under Part VI of the FOI Act,
  • review by the Information Commissioner under Part VII of the FOI Act (IC review), and
  • review by the AAT under Part VIIA of the FOI Act.

NOTE: Agencies only need to provide returns in relation to agency internal reviews. The OAIC uses its own statistics regarding IC reviews and collects information directly from the AAT in relation to applications for reviews of FOI decisions made to the AAT.

For the purposes of 8, requests for internal review of decisions on charges must be included.

8A requires the number of applications for internal review received by the agency during the quarter.

The results of internal reviews are recorded at 8B-8D. Those figures should relate to the number of review decisions made and notified during the reporting period. They are not required to (and often will not) correlate with the number of review applications received during the quarter.

8C(f) provides for the situation where a decision to provide lesser access has been given following review of an access grant decision.

9 - Amendment of Personal Records

(Found on the third page of the return in the portal)

This question collates information about requests made under section 48 of the FOI Act to amend or annotate personal records.

9A requires the number of requests under section 48 received during the quarter. A request by a person may contain a number of specific data elements that are requested to be amended or annotated – this request should still be treated as one request.

9B requires information about the time taken to notify the applicant of the decision on his or her request under section 48. The information should be given in respect of all requests under section 48, whenever received, upon which a decision was notified in the quarter. The periods in 9B(b) and (c) are calculated as the number of calendar days after the day the statutory period ends until the day of the dispatch of the notification of the decision.

9C requires the number of applications received during the quarter for internal review of a decision on a s48 request.

9D requires the number of section 48 requests decided in the period, whenever received, which resulted in:

  1. alteration of the record,
  2. an addition of an appropriate notation,
  3. both an alteration and an addition of an appropriate notation, and
  4. refusal or confirmation of a decision to refuse to amend or add an appropriate notation for the quarter, according to whether the decision was made in response to the initial request, or after internal review.

Where a request involves a number of individual data elements be amended or annotated and any part of the request is refused then the overall decision should be treated as a refusal.

The annual return

The annual return mainly relates to the costs of FOI or IPS work for the financial year. Agencies should carefully consider how they will be in a position to answer the questions in the annual return at the beginning of the financial year so that they keep sufficient information to efficiently complete the return at the end of the year.

1 - Agency Annual Details

This specifies the financial year being reported. The year-of-report is a system-generated figure which cannot be changed by the user. The number of requests received during the year is also displayed. This is a system-generated figure which cannot be changed by the user, and it represents the total of requests received, as reported in the quarterly returns.

Abolition of Agency

1 asks whether the annual return for an agency is its final annual return. Where an agency is abolished, it is a requirement of the winding up process that the agency provide its last annual return to the OAIC. The final return should be submitted as soon as practicable after the abolition of the agency and should not be left until the end of the reporting year. To submit a final annual return, check the box which asks ‘Is this your agency’s last annual return?’ and then select ‘Save’.

Nil Returns

A ‘Nil Return’ should be submitted where there is nothing to report for the whole financial year. To submit a Nil return, check the ‘Nil Return’box and confirm when requested.

2 - Staff Resources involved in FOI and IPS Work

NOTE: FOI and IPS resources and costs should be counted and entered separately

2A and 2B require information about the staff resources in two categories:

  • The number of staff who spent at least 75% of their time on FOI or IPS work; and
  • The number of staff who spent less than 75% of their time on FOI or IPS work but did some work in those areas.

Staff resources reported in 2A and 2B should be staff whose positions include FOI or IPS work as part of their normal functions.

Example 1

An Administrative Review Unit consists of three officers, an APS 6 and an APS 3 who spend all their time on FOI work and an EL 2 who spends 80% of their time on FOI. Therefore, Part 2A would be recorded as 3.

The Unit is supervised by an Assistant Secretary who spends 20% of their time on FOI. The Branch is responsible to a First Assistant Secretary who spends 5% of their time on FOI. Therefore, Part 2B would be recorded as 2.

Example 2

A small agency receives 10 requests during the year. These are processed by an officer who spends 2% of his or her time on the requests as part of her normal duties. Three of the requests required internal review by the agency’s general manager who spent less than 1% of her time on them. In this case 2A would be recorded as 0 and 2B would be recorded as 2.

3 - Staff-Hours Spent on FOI or IPS

‘Staff-Hours’ means the number of hours spent on FOI or IPS work. Calculating staff hours can be based on the assumption, for the sake of simplicity, that 100% of time during a year is 2,000 hours.

Estimates for this item should be corrected to the nearest whole hour (no decimal places, commas or other punctuation should be entered). It is important that these figures are as accurate as possible because they are used to calculate the staff costs component of the report. FOI and IPS staff hours should be counted and entered separately.

3A requires information about staff resources within the agency. Ministers and their staff are reported separately in 3B. 3A(i) records Staff-Hours for officers whose normal functions include FOI processing or IPS work (that is those staff recorded at 2A and 2B).

3A(ii) and (iii) record Staff‑Hours for all other staff in line or policy areas who have spent time on FOI or IPS during the year, for example assisting decision makers in FOI matters, collecting documents for a request.

Example 3

For the Administrative Review Unit described in Example 1 above, the estimated Staff-Hours would be as follows:

APS 3 (100% of time on FOI) 2000

APS 6 (100% of time on FOI) 2000

EL 2 (80% of time on FOI) 1600

Assistant Secretary (20% of time on FOI) 400

First Assistant Secretary (5% of time on FOI) 100

Total 6100

As all of these officer have FOI work as part of their normal functions 6100 would be entered in the FOI box of 3A(i).

Example 4

An agency receives 5 requests which involve the following officers in a line area whose normal duties don’t include FOI work:

APS660 hours;

EL 250 hours;

Assistant Secretary20 hours;

First Assistant Secretary5 hours;

This must be separated into SES and a combined APS 6/EL 1-2 category. In this case, 25 Staff-Hours were spent by SES officers and 110 Staff-Hours were spent by APS 6/EL 1-2 officers.

These figures would be recorded in Part 3A(ii) as follows:

SES officers (or equivalent) 25

APSL6, Executive Levels 1-2 110

Example 5

Some support staff (at the APS Levels 1-5) whose normal duties don’t include FOI work spent the following hours on some FOI matters:

Photocopying of documents for release100

A figure of 100 would be recorded in the answer to Part 3A(iii)

Part 3B records the Staff-Hours spent by a Minister[3] or Ministerial staff on FOI work (not IPS). If an FOI request involves both an agency and a Minister’s office, the Staff-Hours spent by each should be reported separately. Staff-Hours should be recorded separately for (i) Ministers and advisers; and (ii) Minister’s support staff.

Part 4 - Non-Staff Costs Directly Attributable to FOI or IPS

All expenditure directly related to FOI or IPS work should be included (separately), whether in response to FOI requests, in the course of administrative processes for handling FOI requests, managing and implementing the IPS scheme for the agency, training programs etc. Only include actual expenditure paid during the period whether or not the service was performed during the period. The return now combines all the general administrative costs into one field.

Item

Comments* Note FOI and IPS costs are entered separately

A. General administrative costs

This would include photocopying, printing, postage, telephone, materials, travel etc directly related to FOI or IPS work.

B. General legal advice costs

This is general legal advice on FOI or IPS matters either from an in house legal section or external solicitors/ legal counsel.

C. Litigation costs

This is the costs of specific litigation in relation to particular FOI requests. It includes solicitors and legal counsel costs and internal agency legal services if they can be costed. It is very unlikely there would be any IPS litigation.

D. Training costs

This is the training costs directly related to agency staff FOI or IPS skill development.

E. Other costs

Only use for unusual costs not covered above, for example a special access arrangement. Please list the type of cost as well as the amount. Note that these comments will be automatically published with the full dataset on data.gov.au when the OAIC’s Annual Report is published.

5 - Comparison with Previous Year

Agencies are urged to complete 5 to provide an explanation of major differences in statistics for the year under report and the previous year, for example:

  • the number of FOI requests received and response times;
  • FOI costs incurred and charges collected;
  • Staff-hours spent on FOI or IPS matters; and
  • Outcomes of decisions, for example the reasons for an increase or decrease in the percentage of requests granted in full, in part or refused.

In the past, agencies have received adverse media criticism where there were significant increases in costs and no explanation was provided.

Note that these comments will be automatically published with the full dataset on data.gov.au when the OAIC’s Annual Report is published.

6 - Comments on the Operation or Administration of the FOI Act

Agencies are invited to provide comments at 6 on matters such as:

  • the effect of amendments to the FOI Act;
  • the level and quality of support offered by the OAIC
  • the effect of changes to internal structures and procedures; and
  • changes to the level or location of decision-makers within the agency.

Note that these comments will be automatically published with the full dataset on data.gov.au when the OAIC’s Annual Report is published.

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Attachment: FOIstats Quarterly and Annual Returns

Please refer to the downloadable versions at the top of the page.

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Footnotes

[1] At the date this revision was released (21 September 2016) the FOIstats portal still showed the AGD logo and had an AGD URL. However the administrative control and access to the database had been transferred to the OAIC.

[2] The provisions of the FOI Act do not prevent the Ombudsman from exercising his or her power to consider complaints under the Ombudsman Act 1976 (Cth) (see Division 3 of Part VIIB, FOI Act). However, statistics are not collected by the OAIC on complaints made to the Ombudsman.

[3] Section 93 of the FOI Act requires each Minister, as well as each agency, to furnish, in relation to their official documents, information for inclusion in the OAIC’s Annual Report. This includes Assistant Ministers. These office holders are separately listed in the database and separate annual and quarterly returns should be submitted through the relevant Department.

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