If you’ve made your freedom of information (FOI) request correctly, then the agency or minister you sent it to must decide whether to give you access to the requested document. If your FOI request is not clear or sent to the wrong place, the agency or minister must take reasonable steps to help you lodge it correctly.
If your FOI request was to a minister, they may authorise an employee in their office to make the decision.
What happens when your FOI request is received?
An agency or minister will let you know, in writing, that they’ve received your FOI request, no later than 14 days after receiving it.
They also search the documents they hold to see if they have the document you requested. If the document you requested is not held by the agency or minister, or is about the affairs of another agency, then the agency or minister may transfer your FOI request to the other agency, if the other agency agrees. The agency or minister will let you know, in writing, that they’ve transferred your FOI request and to where.
An agency or minister must make a decision about your FOI request, in writing, within 30 days of receiving your FOI request. They may extend this time if:
- they need to consult a third party
- you agree in writing
- your request is complex or large
- they’ve decided to charge you for processing your FOI request and are waiting for your response
You have the right to ask for a review of the agency’s decision if you disagree with it.
When a charge applies
An agency or minister may decide to charge for processing your FOI request. (They can’t charge you for processing a document that has your personal information.) If so, they’ll let you know, in writing, of their decision and wait for your response.
When your FOI request is refused
An agency or minister that refuses your FOI request must include the following when they tell you, in writing, of their decision:
- the name and position of the individual who made the decision
- the reasons for their decision and the facts they used to make the decision
- the public interest factors favouring non-disclosure, if the information in the requested document is conditionally exempt
- information that explains your right to get a review of the decision.
An agency or minister must take reasonable steps to find all the documents you requested, but there are limits to what they’re required to do. They may decide it’s unreasonable to process your FOI request because it involves too many documents and would use too much of their employees’ time. In this situation, they’ll let you know, in writing, they intend to refuse your FOI request — they’re giving you the opportunity to revise your FOI request so they don’t have to refuse it. They must help you revise your FOI request if you ask.
Or, when an FOI request is too large, an agency or minister’s office may contact you to negotiate an extension of time to complete your FOI request.
What happens if you don’t get a decision?
If an agency or minister doesn’t make a decision on your FOI request within the required time, your FOI request is taken to have been refused. Any charge the agency or minister asked you to pay is no longer due, and they must refund your deposit. You then have the right to ask for Information Commissioner review of this decision (internal review does not apply to this kind of decision).
The agency or minister must still complete your FOI request. They may also ask us for an extension of time. For example, they may be close to completing your FOI request. You still have the right to ask for a review (unless we’ve given them an extension of time).
When will you get access?
You’ll get access to the document you requested when:
How will you receive your document?
An agency or minister may give you access to a document by:
- giving you a hard copy of the document
- giving you an electronic copy of the document (for example, in an email)
- giving you the opportunity to inspect the document
- letting you listen or view the document if it’s made of sounds or visual images
- giving you a written transcript of the document if it’s recorded.
You have the right to ask for access to a document in the form you prefer, such as in an electronic form rather than a hard copy. An agency or minister must give you access to the document in the form you requested, unless:
- doing so would unreasonably interfere with their work
- it doesn’t suit the nature of the document
- it would infringe someone’s copyright.
The agency or minister will contact you if they need to give you access to the requested document in a different format.
Why may part of a document be deleted?
If the document you requested includes information that is exempt or irrelevant, then the agency or minister may delete it in the copy they give you. But they must tell you in writing why they’ve deleted the information.
If you’re not happy with an agency’s handling of your FOI request, you can lodge a complaint with us.