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Freedom of Information Act 1989
What are my rights under the ACT Freedom of Information Act 1989?
Briefly, the Freedom of Information Act 1989 (FOI Act) gives you the legal right to:
- see documents (including those about your personal affairs) held by ACT Ministers, their Directorates and some statutory authorities
- ask for information concerning you to be changed if it is incomplete, out of date, incorrect or misleading
- appeal against a decision not to grant access to a document or amend or notate a personal record
The FOI Act also requires Directorates to make available detailed information about the:
- way they are organised
- functions they administer
- kinds of decisions they make
- arrangements they have for public involvement in their work
- documents they hold and how you can see them
- rules and practices which are used in making decisions which affect you.
You can look at and, if you wish, buy copies of manuals (or parts thereof) and guidelines which Directorates use in making decisions which affect you.
For more information on how you can see these documents talk to the FOI officer in the Directorate you think might deal with your request or make an appointment to discuss your request.
What other documents can I see?
The FOI Act allows the public a general right of access to information held by Government. This access is governed by restrictions as set out in the legislation. The Directorate supports an individual’s right to access their personal information which may engage with the Privacy Act 1988 and the Health Records (Privacy and Access) Act 1997.
Accessible documents include files, reports, computer printouts, maps, plans, photographs, tape recordings, films or videotapes.
Prior to lodging an FOI request
- Before making a request you should first approach your case worker, disability support worker or the Directorate’s FOI coordinators to discuss your needs.
- Many documents, particularly if they contain your personal information, may be given to you directly without the need to request them under the FOI Act.
How do I make an FOI request?
Identify the document(s) you want. The Directorate has FOI officers who can assist you in making your request. You can write a letter or fill in the form, which is available from the Directorate’s website or by contacting one of the Directorate’s FOI Co-ordinators, requesting the documents (please remember to mention that you wish to apply for access under the FOI Act).
Give as much information as you can about the document you want (for example, the date the documents were created, or describe in detail the subject matter in which you are interested).
- The more specific you can be, the quicker we can process your request.
- Include a contact telephone number so we can clarify details if necessary.
Requests relating to Community Services Directorate should be posted to the following address:
Office for Children, Youth and Family Support
Housing and Community Services ACT
All other areas of the Directorate
Ms Kathy Ross
GPO Box 158
Locked Bag 3000
Ms Margaret Puniard
GPO Box 158
How much will it cost me?
There is no application fee for FOI requests.
- Applications for personal information will not incur a processing fee.
- Processing charges may apply to requests for material other than your personal information
Processing charges may apply for large requests. In order to avoid any charges, please consult with the FOI co-ordinator to be sure that you are requesting only the documents you really need.
Remission of processing charges can be sought on the grounds of personal affairs, financial hardship or public interest.
Where an estimated charge exceeds $100 a 25% deposit may be required. Where a deposit has been sought or a charge notified no further action will be taken, nor access given, until payment is received. Once paid, a deposit is not refunded if you choose not to pursue the matter to finality.
How will the documents be given to me?
The Directorate can let you see the documents, or give you a copy. In some cases another form may be more appropriate (eg. listening to a tape recording). If copies are not sent to you, the Directorate will let you know how, when and where you can see them. This may be at the office in Civic or an ACT Government Service district office nearest to where you live.
Should you have a preference, say so when making your FOI application. Generally you will be given access in the form requested.
Special procedures may apply if you want to see information which concerns your physical or mental health: The Minister or head of the Directorate concerned may decide to give the information to a doctor of your choice rather than to you directly, however this can only be done where the Minister or head of the Directorate thinks that giving it to you directly might prejudice your physical or mental health or well-being. You can appeal against the decision to give it to your doctor rather than you directly, but what your doctor tells you or shows you is a matter for his/her judgment.
Freedom of Information Online
From October 2011 information that is provided to an applicant under Freedom of Information legislation, by the ACT Government, will be also released on the ACT Government Portal web page .
ACT Government Directorates are required to upload digital copies of released FOI information within 15 business days of the material being provided to the applicant.
Exceptions to this are documents that are exempt for privacy, commercial confidentiality or copyright. Medical Records are subject to specific legislation. Full details of the FOI legislation and the FOI policy , including the publication of material are available online.
This policy applies to FOI applications that are finalised on or after 4 October 2011. Applications finalised prior to this date, will not be available on this site. This policy does not apply retrospectively.
Can I see all official documents?
No. The Act sets out certain types of documents which you may not be able to see (called exempt documents). Exemptions are generally used to protect confidential matters or the private or business affairs of others.
- The FOI Act also provides the ability to use a secrecy provision of another Act to exempt a document. An example includes the exemption of most Care and Protection information, including reports, which are restricted under the secrecy provisions of the Children and Young People Act 2008.
In most cases where an FOI request would lead to an unreasonable disclosure of someone else's personal affairs, it will be refused.
If a request would unreasonably divert a Directorate's resources from its normal functions access may be refused.
When you want to see documents containing information about your own personal affairs, the Directorate may ask to see some proof of your identity.
If a Directorate decides not to give you access to the document you asked for, it must give you written reasons for the decision and advise you of your rights of appeal.
It is important to understand the Act provides for the granting of access to documents which contain deletions. If, for instance, documents contain any identifying information in relation to a person other than the applicant, this material may be deleted from the documentation.
Can I have documents concerning me amended?
Yes, providing you are an Australian citizen or are a permanent resident in Australia and access was provided to those documents under the FOI Act.
If, after seeing your documents, you believe the information they contain to be incomplete, incorrect, out of date or misleading, you have a legal right to ask that it be corrected, if one of these grounds is established.
You can ask for amendment to be made by altering the record, adding an appropriate annotation, or both.
How do I ask for correction of documents concerning me?
Once you have obtained access to those documents under the FOI Act:
- simply write and ask. No application fee applies
- identify what information is incomplete, incorrect, out of date or misleading
Explain with as much detail as possible:
- what the facts are and what evidence there is to support them
- what changes you want made
Post or deliver your request to the Directorate. Provide your address for correspondence.
What must the Directorate do when it gets my request for amendment of personal records?
The Directorate must deal with your request as soon as practicable and tell you within 30 days what the relevant Directorate has decided.
If the Directorate decides not to make the changes you asked for (or decides to make different ones), the Directorate must ensure that you are advised of the reasons and notify you of your rights of appeal.
What kinds of appeal do I have?
If you are not satisfied with a decision made under the FOI Act you can appeal the decision by asking the Directorate to conduct an Internal Review. If you are still not satisfied with the outcome of the Internal Review you may take the matter to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Alternatively, you can complain to the ACT Ombudsman about the Directorate's decision or action.
You have a legal right to appeal if the Directorate does not tell you what decisions have been made on your request or delays informing you.
What FOI decisions can I appeal against?
Decisions preventing you from seeing what you want when you want, in the form you want, or at all. Decisions imposing a charge to see what you want.
Decisions refusing to change or notate documents about you which you think are incomplete, incorrect, out of date or misleading. Decisions letting others see documents which you say would unreasonably disclose:
- your personal information
- your lawful business or professional affairs
- lawful business, commercial or financial affairs of your firm
Decisions to give you access to documents about your physical or mental health through your doctor and not directly to you.
You can ask the Directorate to reconsider its decision as long as the Minister or Directorate head concerned did not make it. Generally, you must apply for internal review within 28 days of being told of the decision. Write to the Directorate at the above address and ask for an internal review. It will help if you say why you think the decision should be changed or what aspects of the decision are of concern to you.
Someone, in a position senior to the person who made the first decision, will then make a fresh decision. You will be given the new decision within 14 days and written reasons if access or amendment is refused. You can then appeal to the ACAT or complain to the ACT Ombudsman if still dissatisfied with the decision given.
The ACAT is an independent body responsible for reviewing administrative decisions by Directorates. It decides whether the decision made on your FOI request was correct.
The ACAT has the capacity to change the Directorate's decision in most cases.
You can appeal to the ACAT if:
- your request was originally decided by a Minister or Directorate head
- you are unhappy with an internal review decision
- there has been Directorate delay in providing you with a response.
The ACAT will tell you when and where your case will be heard, who will be there, what will happen, what you should bring with you, what happens at the end of the hearing and other things you should know.
Generally, you must apply for ACAT review within 60 days of being told the decision and enclose the relevant application fee. Further information about the ACAT, including the current application fee, can be obtained from:
ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal
GPO Box 370
CANBERRA ACT 2601
Phone: 02 6207 1740
You cannot appeal to the ACAT if:
- an internal review was possible but you did not ask for it
- you have complained to the ACT Ombudsman but have not yet received his/her report.
If you think the ACAT has made a mistake of law in its decision you can appeal to the ACT Supreme Court.
ACT Ombudsman review
The ACT Ombudsman has the power to investigate Directorate actions under the FOI Act, including decisions, delays, and refusal or failure to act.
The Ombudsman can review FOI decisions to ensure they were made in a fair and proper way. The Ombudsman can't substitute a decision, but can recommend that the original decision be changed.
Before complaining to the Ombudsman, first try to resolve your problem by discussing it with the Directorate.
Explain your point of view clearly and ask for the action or decision concerned to be reconsidered. The Ombudsman usually prefers applicants to seek an internal review before complaining about a decision.
If you complain to the Ombudsman, you can't appeal to the ACAT until you have received the Ombudsman's report on your complaint. Please write to:
GPO Box 442
CANBERRA ACT 2601
Phone: 6276 0111
- You will receive a letter acknowledging your request and providing details of a contact officer within 14 days of receipt.
- The Directorate must deal with your request as soon as practicable and tell you within 30 days what the outcome is.
- If the Directorate decides to consult a third party about information that concerns them, 30 days is added to the processing time.
- In the case of a request for an internal review, the Directorate must deal with the request within 14 days.
- Requests to amend personal records must be processed within 30 days.
- In cases where there are a large number of documents there may be further delays. However, the Directorate we will keep you informed.
In certain instances, an FOI request may involve the processing of a significant amount of documents that cannot be processed within 30 days. Because of the volume of information involved, the Directorate may ask you to consider whether you wish to receive information in stages.
What will it cost me to appeal?
No fees are payable for an ACT Ombudsman review.
You will have to pay for your legal representation (unless you represent yourself), witnesses expenses and other costs connected with your ACAT or Supreme Court case, unless you request and receive legal aid.
The ACT Legal Aid Office can give you legal or financial assistance with your ACAT or Supreme Court cases if you meet certain guidelines.
If you want to discuss your case or other information about ACT Government, legal or financial assistance for your case, please contact the Legal Aid Office on 6243 3411.
For further information, please contact the Community Services Directorate’s Legal and Accountability Officer on Tel: (02) 6205 0274 or Facsimile: (02) 6205 0343.
The ACT Government is committed to making its information, services, events and venues accessible to the wider community.
If you have difficulty reading a standard printed document and would like to receive this publication in an alternate format – such as large print or audio – please telephone (02) 6205 0619.
If English is not your first language and you require translation and interpreter services, please telephone 131 450.
If you are hearing impaired and require the TTY typewriter service, please telephone (02) 6205 0888.