Deciding a freedom of information request
This checklist identifies the key steps to take when making a decision on a request for access to documents under the FOI Act.
1. Preliminary steps
Make sure you have authority to make decisions under the FOI Act for your agency. Check your agency’s authorisation instrument made under s 23 of the Act if you are uncertain. This should be published on your agency’s Information Publication Scheme.
Make sure you are clear about the timeframes you need to meet.
Analyse the terms of the request broadly, avoiding a technical, narrow or legalistic approach.
If the request is vague or seems too large to be processed, consult the applicant as soon as possible to clarify the request or see if the scope can be narrowed.
3. Locate relevant material
Identify and collate the documents that are in the scope of the request. Our search checklist can help you carry out a thorough search and document it.
4. Consider transfer
If relevant documents originate from another agency, consider whether a transfer of part or all of the request is appropriate. Consult the relevant agency as soon as you consider transfer is a possibility — the processing time does not stop.
If relevant documents originate from an intelligence agency, you must transfer the request or the relevant part of the request to the responsible portfolio department.
5. Calculate charges
If you decide to impose a charge for processing a request and providing access to documents, the charge should fairly reflect the work involved.
Give the applicant an estimate of the charge and how it was calculated. You can ask for a deposit of 25% of the total ($20 if the estimate is less than $100).
You can reduce or waive a charge on the grounds of financial hardship, public interest or any other relevant reason.
If you are thinking of releasing documents that originate from or contain information of a third party who has a right to be consulted, undertake consultation under ss 26A, 27 or 27A. Advise the applicant that the processing time is extended by 30 days.
If it appears another agency has an interest in a document, consult that agency to make sure you have as much information as possible to enable you to make the correct and preferable decision. The processing time is not extended for this consultation.
7. Assess and decide
Determine the relevant facts. Make sure any findings of fact you rely on for your decision are supported by the documents you have collected and the available evidence.
If claiming an exemption, make sure the facts establish the necessary elements. If there is doubt, reconsider whether you should claim the exemption. If claiming a conditional exemption, make sure the facts establish the elements of the conditional exemption, and then apply the public interest test.
If it would not be contrary to the public interest to disclose the document, you must release it.
Consider whether it is possible to delete the exempt material from the documents and provide an edited version to the applicant.
Send the applicant a statement of reasons that explains your decision and the reasons for it. The statement of reasons checklist provides a useful guide.
9. Provide access
If you have decided to grant access to documents in accordance with the request, collect any outstanding charges first.
Provide access, in the form the applicant requested, as soon as possible, unless a third party was consulted under ss 26A, 27 or 27A during the processing stage. If a third party objected to the release of a document, do not release it until all the third party’s options for review of the decision have run out.
Before releasing the document, check that the third party has not applied for Information Commissioner review. You can call the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner on 1300 363 992 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get this information.
You can give access in a different form in certain circumstances (s 20). You should also check with the OAIC whether a third party has applied for an Information Commissioner review. You may defer access in certain circumstances (s 21). Consider also if a person’s access to their own personal information should be given instead to a qualified person (s 47F).
Consider whether you need to publish the information you have released on your agency’s disclosure log. The following information does not need to be published in a disclosure log, if publication would be unreasonable:
- personal information about any person
- information about any person’s business, commercial, financial or professional affairs
- information in a document that was exempt at the time access was given
- Information that would have been exempt at the time access was given if the request had been made by someone other than the applicant
- any information that is not reasonably practicable to publish because of the extent of modifications needed to delete the material listed above
Publish any other information you have released to an applicant within ten working days of giving access.