Can an agency ask me to agree to extend the processing period for my Freedom of Information request because of the COVID-19 outbreak?

Yes. The usual time for an agency to process your freedom of information (FOI) request is 30 days. However, there are provisions in the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) that allow this 30-day period to be extended. For example, when an FOI applicant agrees to the agency taking extra time to process their request (under s 15AA of the FOI Act).

If an agency is not able to make a decision on your FOI request within 30 days because of the COVID-19 outbreak, they will write to you, usually by email, and ask you to agree to extend the time to make a decision. Under the FOI Act, if you agree you must tell them in writing, and your agreement must be registered with the OAIC.

The longest extension the agency can ask you for is 30 days. If you initially agree to extend the time for a period of less than 30 days, the agency or minister can later ask you to extend the time again. However, the extensions when added together must not be more than 30 days.

There are other provisions in the FOI Act that allow the processing period to be extended without your agreement. An agency or minister can apply to the OAIC to extend the processing period if the FOI request is complex or voluminous or if the statutory timeframe has not been met. If the OAIC decides to extend the processing period, we will notify you.

More information about extensions of time is available on our website.

Can an agency ask me to defer my FOI request due to the COVID-19 outbreak?

No. There is no provision in the FOI Act for an FOI request to be deferred. If an agency or minister asks you to defer your FOI request, they’re really asking you to withdraw it and submit it later. However, you don’t have to agree.

I haven’t received a decision on my FOI request during the COVID-19 outbreak. Can the OAIC help?

If an agency or minister doesn’t make a decision on your FOI request within the required time (this includes any extensions to the 30-day processing period), 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 can then apply for Information Commissioner review. Internal review does not apply to this kind of decision. The agency or minister must still complete your FOI request.

After we receive your application, we will ask the agency or minister to make a decision as soon as they can. We can also require the agency or minister to make a decision by a specific date. Often the agency or minister makes a decision when we contact them.

If you’re happy with the decision, you can withdraw your application to the OAIC. This needs to be done in writing.

If you’re not happy with the decision, the Information Commissioner will proceed with the review. You don’t need to make a new application for review. However, you need to tell us in writing that you want to continue with your original application.

How can I apply for Information Commissioner review during the COVID-19 outbreak if an agency or minister has not made a decision yet?

You must apply in writing with:

  • your name and contact details
  • a copy or your FOI request or details of your FOI request to the agency or minister

The quickest way to apply is through our online FOI review form.

How can I apply for review of an FOI decision during the COVID-19 outbreak?

If you’re not happy with an agency or minister’s decision in response to your FOI request, you can apply for review of the decision. You can ask for an internal review or Information Commissioner review. We recommend that you apply for internal review first because a decision must be made within 30 days and there are no time limits for Information Commissioner review.

You must act promptly if you decide to apply for Information Commissioner review because time limits apply:

  • You have 60 days to apply (after receiving a decision) if you disagree with a decision to refuse you access to documents, to impose a charge, or refuse to correct a document.
  • You have 30 days to apply if you disagree with a decision to give another person or organisation access to documents.

You can also apply for Information Commissioner review if an agency or minister has not made a decision within the time the FOI Act allows.

We recommend you apply by using our online FOI review form. This is the quickest way to apply for Information Commissioner review.

More information about reviews and complaints can be found in the FOI section on our website, including how to apply for Information Commissioner review.

How can I make an FOI complaint during the COVID-19 outbreak?

You can complain to us about the way an Australian Government agency has dealt with your FOI request or about any other action they have taken under the FOI Act. You can’t make an FOI complaint about a minister.

However, if you want an agency’s decision changed, you need to ask for an internal review or Information Commissioner review.

FOI complaints to us must be in writing. We recommend you write to us using our online FOI complaint form. This is the quickest way to make a complaint.

Please give a clear and brief description of each issue you’re complaining about and what outcome you’d like.

More information about reviews and complaints can be found in the FOI section on our website, including how to make an FOI complaint.

How can I ask for more time to respond to a request for information from the OAIC during the COVID-19 pandemic?

If you have applied for Information Commissioner review of an FOI decision or have made an FOI complaint to us about an agency, we may write to you, usually by email, to ask for more information.

If you need more time to give us the information, please email us at foidr@oaic.gov.au explaining why you need more time and how much more time you need. Make sure you include your OAIC reference number in your email. We will respond to you as soon as we can.

How can I find out about the status of my Information Commissioner review or FOI complaint?

To find out about the status of your FOI complaint or your application for Information Commissioner review, please fill in our enquiry form. Your enquiry will be sent to the officer looking after your complaint or review and they will respond to you as soon as they can.

Will there be a delay with my Information Commissioner review application or my FOI complaint due to the COVID-19 outbreak?

We are continuing to progress FOI complaints and reviews however this may take longer than usual. For example, we may give agencies or ministers extra time to provide us with information, including when staff who usually work in FOI teams have been redeployed to other work and are not able to respond or access documents.

If you want an update on the progress of a complaint or review, please contact us using our online enquiry form. Your enquiry will be sent to the officer looking after your complaint or review and they will respond to you as soon as they can.

If you have any questions about the personal information we collect when you apply for an Information Commissioner review or make an FOI complaint and how we handle it, please read our privacy policy or contact us through our online enquiry form.

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