How long does an agency have to process an freedom of information request?
The standard timeframe to process an FOI request is 30 days. However, the FOI Act contains a number of extension of time provisions. There are four extension types:
- Extensions with the applicant’s agreement
- Extensions to allow the agency to consult a third party
- Extensions for complex or voluminous requests
- Extensions after the processing period runs out
How is the 30 day processing period calculated?
The 30 day period for notifying the applicant of a decision commences on the day after the day the agency or minister received the request, provided the request meets the formal requirements of s 15(2) of the FOI Act.
A ‘day’ is a calendar day. However, if the last day for notifying a decision falls on a Saturday, Sunday or a public holiday, the timeframe will expire on the next day which is none of those days. The processing period may also be affected by time spent agreeing on a charge or carrying out a request consultation process. See Part 3 of the Guidelines.
Are public holidays and agency shut-down periods counted in the 30 day processing period?
Yes. Public holidays and shut down periods do not extend the processing period. To ensure compliance with the statutory timeframes and make the most appropriate use of the extension of time provisions in the Act, agencies should plan well in advance.
The guidance Public Holidays and Agency Shut-down Periods may help agencies calculate when a processing period commences and ends during holiday and shut-down periods.
Does an agency or minister have to notify the OAIC of an extension to consult with an affected third party?
No, the agency or minister does not need to notify the OAIC of this type of extension, but does need to inform the applicant. See Part 3 of the Guidelines and Extension of Time for Processing Requests for further details.
Does an agency or minister have to notify the OAIC of an extension with the applicant’s agreement?
Does an agency or minister need to apply to the OAIC for an extension if the request is complex or voluminous?
Yes. The agency or minister must provide reasons to the OAIC. The decision period may be extended by a further 30 days or a longer or shorter period of time, as appropriate. See Part 3 of the Guidelines and Extension of Time for Processing Requests for further details.
Does an agency or minister need to apply to the OAIC for an extension following a deemed decision?
An agency or minister has the option to apply to the OAIC for further time after a decision has become deemed (either under s 15AC or under s 54D after an application for internal review). See Part 3 of the Guidelines and Extension of Time for Processing Requests for further details.
What happens if an agency or minister does not meet the time frame for processing an FOI request?
The principal officer of the agency or minister is taken to have made a decision to refuse access to the document on the last day of the decision period. Agencies should continue to process an FOI request even where the statutory timeframe has expired and an extension of time has been refused or not sought. The expiry of the timeframe gives the applicant the right to apply for review of a deemed decision — it does not remove the agency’s obligation to process the request. See Part 3 of the Guidelines and Extension of Time for Processing Requests for further details.
Can the agency or minister request more than one extension of time from the Information Commissioner?
Yes, if an FOI request is complex or voluminous. See s 15AB of the FOI Act and Part 3 of the Guidelines.
However, an extension granted for a deemed refusal or deemed affirmation can only be granted once. See ss 15AC and 55AD of the FOI Act, Part 3 of the Guidelines and Extension of Time for Processing Requests for further details.
When is an FOI request ‘complex or voluminous’?
This will be determined on a case by case basis. Factors that are not relevant are issues that are not connected to the request itself, including an agency’s heavy workload, competing priorities and ongoing resource limitations. See s 15AB of the FOI Act and Extension of Time for Processing Requests.
If the decision-making period has expired and the agency continues to process the request, what is the status of the agency’s decision?
An agency still has a duty to make a decision on the FOI access request. The agency’s obligation ceases only when the Information Commissioner commences a review of a deemed decision (that is, the date the OAIC notifies the parties that it is commencing a review, not the date an application for IC review is lodged). In these circumstances, the agency must notify the Information Commissioner in writing of the substituted decision as soon as practicable. See Part 3 of the Guidelines and Extension of Time for Processing Requests for further details