How we handle an FOI complaint

On this page

  • We assess your FOI complaint to decide whether to investigate it
  • We may ask the agency office youre complaining about for information
  • We keep you informed of the process of your complaint

When you lodge your freedom of information (FOI) complaint, we’ll let you know in writing that we’ve received it.

We may ask the agency you’re complaining about for information relating to your complaint. This is called making preliminary inquiries. The time we give the agency to respond to our preliminary inquiries depends on the amount of information we’ve asked for.

When the agency sends us their response, we’ll assess it and do one of the following:

Let you know about any relevant information

After receiving the agency’s response to our preliminary inquiries, we may let you know about any relevant information they’ve sent us which we think may address your concerns. For example, if you wanted to know why an agency took more than 30 days to make a decision on your FOI request, and the agency sends us information we think would address your concerns, then we may let you know about this information.

If you’re happy with what you now know, you can withdraw your complaint. 

Let you know we intend to decline to investigate

We may write to you to let you know that after making preliminary inquiries we intend to decline to investigate your complaint. You have 14 days to either give us further information in support of your complaint or withdraw your complaint.

If you send us information in support of your complaint, we assess it and either investigate your complaint or the Information Commissioner will personally write to you to let you know we’re not investigating your complaint.

Request further information

If, after receiving agency’s the response, we need more information to assess your complaint, we’ll ask the agency for it. The time we give them to respond to our request depends on the amount of information we’ve asked for.

When the agency sends us their response, we assess it and either:

Investigate your complaint

If, after assessing your complaint and any information we’ve received from the agency, we decide to investigate your complaint, we let you know, in writing, that we’ve started to investigate your complaint.

We also let the agency know, in writing, that we’re now investigating your complaint and what information we need from them. The time we give them to respond depends on the amount of information we’ve asked for.

When the agency sends us their response, we assess it. If we will need further information to complete our assessment, we’ll ask them for it. Otherwise, their response will allow us to complete our investigation.

Then the Information Commissioner will personally write to the agency or minister’s office to let them know:

  • the results of our investigation
  • our recommendations, if any, and when they must be done
  • the reasons for the results

The Information Commissioner will also personally write to you to let you know that we’ve completed our investigation and its outcome.

Why we may not investigate your complaint

We may not investigate your complaint if:

  • the matters it raises are best looked at in an Information Commissioner review
  • it’s not about the actions an agency took under the Freedom of Information Act 1982
  • it’s more appropriate for you to complain to another body (such as the agency you’re complaining about)
  • the agency you are complaining about has dealt with your complaint or is dealing with your complaint
  • it’s lacking in substance, misconceived, not made in good faith, vexatious or frivolous
  • the matter you complained about doesn’t involve you (for example, you’ve no direct knowledge or aren’t affected by the matter)

If we don’t investigate your complaint, the Information Commissioner will personally write to you to let you know and the reasons why.

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