There is no charge to make a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act). However, an agency or minister may charge you for them to process it and you to access the information you requested.
Your personal information
There is no charge for access to a document that has your personal information. However, the agency or minister who holds the document may ask you to identify yourself so they can make sure the document relates to you.
Under the FOI Act, an agency or minister may charge for access to a document that has other information. However, they can’t use this charge to discourage you from making an FOI request.
After receiving your FOI request, if the agency or minister decides to charge you, then they must let you know, in writing, their estimate of the charge for completing the request and how they calculated the charge.
The agency or minister may require you to pay a deposit of 25% of the total estimate or $20 if the estimated charge is less than $100.
How is the charge calculated?
The agency or minister will calculate the charge based on the amount of work needed to process your request. What they can charge is set by regulation and may include:
- search and retrieval, $15 per hour
- decision-making, $20 per hour (first 5 hours are free)
- delivery, cost of postage or delivery
- photocopying, 10 cents a page
- supervised inspection, $6.25 per half hour
- transcript, $4.40 per page.
An agency or minister must give you an invoice for the charge if you ask for one.
Responding to the charge
When you receive the agency or minister’s notice stating the charge, you have 30 days to respond in writing. Your response will be one of the following:
- you agree to pay the estimated charge
- you dispute the way they calculated the estimated charge
- you want them to reduce or not apply the charge
- you will change your FOI request to reduce the work needed to process it
- you withdraw your FOI request.
If you change your FOI request the agency or minister will let you know, in writing, of their new estimate. If you don’t respond within 30 days, your request is taken to have been withdrawn.
Disputing, reducing or not applying the charge
If you dispute the estimated charge or ask for it to be reduced or not applied, the agency or minister must let you know their decision, in writing, within 30 days.
An agency or minister must consider any reason you give to reduce or not apply the charge. Common reasons include:
- the charge will cause you financial hardship
- disclosing the requested document is in the general public interest or in the interest of a substantial section of the public.
It’s a good idea to give the agency or minister evidence to support your claim. For example, if you’re claiming financial hardship, you might give them a copy of your pension or concession card. If you claim disclosing the document is in the general public interest, you could explain how you’ll use the document for public research, or to prepare a submission to a parliamentary inquiry, or to advance public debate on a topic of current importance.
Even if an agency accepts your reason for reducing or not applying the charge, they may still ask you to pay the charge. They don’t have to reduce or not apply a charge.
When do you pay?
You may want to pay the deposit as soon as you can, since an agency or minister doesn’t have to process your FOI request until you've paid the deposit. If you prefer, you can pay the full amount of the charge when the agency or minister asks for your deposit.
An agency or minister may not start work on your FOI request until:
- you’ve paid the deposit
- they’ve made a decision not to apply the charge (at your request).
Your deposit is not refundable, even if the agency or minister decides not to give you access to the document you requested. However, the agency or minister must refund your deposit if:
- they decide to reduce or not apply the charge following an application from you
- after completing your FOI request, they decide that the charge payable is less than the deposit you paid (you get a partial refund)
- they fail to make a decision on your FOI request within the period set by law (including any extensions that we’ve given).
The full amount
When an agency or minister decides to give you access to the document you requested, you must pay the charge in full before you can access the document, except when you’re inspecting the document under supervision.
If the agency or minister underestimated the work involved in giving you access, they may charge you more than their estimated charge. However, they can’t charge you more than their estimated charge if they don’t give you access to the document you requested.