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The FOI complaint process

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If there is a problem with how a Victorian public sector agency or Minister processes or handles your freedom of information (FOI) request, you can complain to OVIC.

This page explains how to make an FOI complaint in Victoria and how we handle FOI complaints under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Vic) (FOI Act).


Step 1 – You complain to us

In this section read about what to do before making a complaint, what you can complain about, and how to make a complaint using our complaint form.

What should I do before I make an FOI complaint?

Before making a complaint to us, it is useful to talk to the agency or Minister who is handling your FOI request to discuss the issue.

Talking to the agency or Minister is often a quick and easy way of resolving issues or understanding why something has occurred.

It allows you to communicate directly with the agency or Minister, so they understand your concerns and what you want.

It can also help you get a better understanding of why they did something, receive an explanation or reason, and provides you and the agency or Minister with an opportunity to resolve the issue.

If the issue isn’t resolved, you can then make a complaint to us.

What can I make an FOI complaint about?

If there is a problem with how an agency or Minister processes or handles your FOI request, you can complain to us about the problem or issue.

Common reasons for making a complaint include:

  • the agency or Minister has taken more than 30 days to process your FOI request and there has been no extension of time;
  • a document you requested does not exist or cannot be found;
  • the agency or Minister has failed to comply with the FOI Professional Standards;
  • if you are a third-party, a decision was made to disclose your personal or business information.

If an agency or Minister has made a decision in relation to documents it located as part of your request, and you disagree with that decision, then you should ask us for a review of the decision.

What can’t I make an FOI complaint about?

We can only investigate issues relating to the FOI Act.

We cannot look at issues outside the FOI Act or investigate actions unrelated to your FOI request.

For example, we can’t investigate:

  • why a doctor or hospital treated you in a particular way;
  • the reasons a local council approved a planning or building permit; or
  • why you didn’t get a job that you applied for at a department.

Who can I complain about?

Your complaint must be about a Victorian public sector agency or Minister. For example, a Victorian government department, Victorian council, Victorian statutory authority, public hospital, or university.

You cannot make a complaint to us about a private organisation or company, a Commonwealth or federal agency, or a government agency of another state or territory.

Who else might be able to help me?

If your complaint is about a Commonwealth agency like the Australian Tax Office, Centrelink, or Australian Border Force, you should complain to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

If your complaint is about a government agency in another state or territory you should contact:

Victorian complaints bodies that might be able to assist you with matters unrelated to FOI include the:

  • Health Complaints Commissioner – handles complaints about health services and the handling of health information in Victoria;
  • Victorian Ombudsman – handles complaints about the general conduct of Victorian government organisations, local councils, statutory authorities, and Victorian universities and TAFEs; and
  • Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission – identifies, exposes and prevents police misconduct and public sector corruption, and handles complaints about police misconduct and corruption in Victorian government, local councils, Parliament and the judiciary.

How long will it take to resolve my FOI complaint?

There is no timeframe for resolving a complaint.

We try to resolve complaints as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The average time to finalise or resolve a complaint is 80 days, however many complaints are dealt with in less time.

How do I make an FOI complaint?

To make a complaint to us, you must:

  • make your complaint within 60 days of the action or conduct occurring;
  • identify the name of the relevant Victorian public sector agency or Minister; and
  • describe what you are complaining about.

You should make your complaint using our form available below. When you have completed our form, email it to enquiries@ovic.vic.gov.au.

Remember we can only deal with FOI issues relating to Victorian public sector agencies – if you have more general concerns about an agency or Minister’s actions, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to help resolve these.


Step 2 – We assess your complaint

In this section learn about what happens after you make a complaint, what we do if we accept or decline your complaint, and our expectations.

What happens after I submit my FOI complaint?

You can usually expect our assessment process to follow the below stages.

1. We assess your complaint

We will ensure we have jurisdiction to accept your complaint and make sure you have provided all the necessary information.

We might:

  • request further information from you;
  • ask the agency or Minister some initial questions;
  • call you to better understand what the issue is or what has occurred; or
  • discuss practical options to resolve your complaint.

2. We either accept, decline, or ask you to withdraw your complaint

If your complaint is something we can investigate and we accept it, we will contact you in writing to let you know.

If your complaint is something we can’t investigate or we can’t accept it, then we will ask you to withdraw it in writing. If this happens, we will explain why we can’t investigate.

Sometimes we can quickly resolve a complaint at this early stage by talking to the agency or Minister. If we can resolve your complaint before formally accepting it, then we will ask you to withdraw it.

If you don’t withdraw your complaint, then we will send you a letter telling you that we have declined to accept your complaint and explain why.

3. We notify the agency or Minister

If we accept your complaint, we are required to notify the agency or Minister in writing. We are also required to give them a copy of your written complaint.

Providing the agency or Minister with a copy of your complaint helps them to understand and address the issue.

If you have confidential or sensitive information that you only want to share with us, then you can provide that information to us after we have accepted your complaint.

How long will it take to resolve my FOI complaint?

There is no timeframe for resolving a complaint.

We try to resolve complaints as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The average time to finalise or resolve a complaint is 80 days, however many complaints are dealt with in less time.

What do we expect from you when you make an FOI complaint?

If we accept your complaint, we ask that you:

  • treat us with respect and communicate with us politely;
  • respond to our enquiries within specified timeframes;
  • consider any resolution options with an open mind;
  • assist us in resolving your complaint constructively;
  • respect our functions and powers under the FOI Act.

What can you expect from us when you make an FOI complaint?

When we investigate your complaint, we will:

  • act independently and without bias;
  • treat you with respect and listen to your concerns;
  • deal with your complaint in private;
  • do our best to resolve your complaint informally and as quickly as possible;
  • aim to reach resolutions that are suitable to both parties;
  • be open and honest about what we can and cannot do in dealing with your complaint;
  • be upfront with you when we feel your complaint has been pursued to its fullest extent;
  • provide you with an opportunity to provide further information.

Step 3 – We investigate your complaint

In this section learn about how we investigate your complaint. This usually involves asking the agency or Minister questions and explaining responses to you.

What happens after my FOI complaint is accepted?

Our process is flexible, and we will work with you and the agency or Minister to try to resolve your complaint in the most efficient and effective way.

We are independent and impartial. This means we do not take sides or advocate for either you or the agency or Minister when handling your complaint.

We will usually talk to you and the agency or Minister to gather any information we need to help us resolve the complaint.

This might involve:

  • talking to you and the agency or Minister to establish facts and issues;
  • discussing the practical options to resolve your complaint with you;
  • requesting information and documents from the agency or Minister;
  • asking the agency or Minister to provide an explanation and detailed reasons;
  • asking the agency or Minister to do something to help resolve your complaint; or
  • providing you with the agency or Minister’s reasons or explanation.

We will provide you and the agency or Minister with opportunities to respond and provide further information as the complaint progresses.

As the complaint progresses, we will try to guide you and the agency or Minister to practical solutions for resolving your complaint.

Can you make the agency or Minister do something in response to a complaint?

Our complaints process generally involves helping you get an explanation or asking the agency or Minister to take further action or actions. However, we cannot force an agency or Minister to do something or take a particular action if they do not want to or disagree.

You need to be flexible and be open to all practical options to resolve your complaint. We will try our best to facilitate a practical resolution to your complaint.


Step 4 – Resolving your complaint

In this section read about how we try resolve complaints through informal or formal resolution. If we can’t resolve a complaint, we may also dismiss it.

How will you resolve my complaint?

We will work with you and the agency or Minister to try resolve the complaint in the most efficient and practical way.

We do this by being a neutral third party. This means we do not take sides or advocate for either you or the agency or Minister when handling your complaint.

You should keep an open mind and be flexible with your expectations when we provide advice and give you options to resolve your complaint.

This might involve:

  • informal resolution of the complaint, for example, the agency or Minister providing an apology or finding a missing document;
  • if appropriate, formal resolution through a conciliation process with a written agreement; and/or
  • dismissing the complaint if we accept the agency or Minister has not made an error, or where the agency or Minister has taken reasonable steps to correct any error.

What does ‘informal resolution’ mean?

If we think a complaint can be resolved informally, we must take reasonable steps to resolve the complaint.

Examples of an informal resolution may include the agency or Minister:

  • undertaking an additional search for documents, discovering further documents, or explaining in detail why a document doesn’t exist, is missing, or has been destroyed;
  • providing you with an apology or acknowledgement of a delay; and/or
  • providing a detailed explanation on the way it handled your request.

If you are satisfied with the agency or Minister’s actions or response, we will ask you to withdraw the complaint, or agree that it has been resolved in writing.

If you are not satisfied with the agency or Minister’s actions or response, we might ask you:

  • for specific information on what outcome will resolve your complaint; and/or
  • to provide additional information or documentation to assist us to resolve your complaint.

It is important to remember that we cannot force an agency or Minister to do something or take a particular action if they do not want to or disagree.

What does ‘formal resolution’ mean?

If we are unable to informally resolve your complaint and it is appropriate in the circumstances, we may use more formal processes.

This might include:

  • conciliating the complaint, with the aim of reaching a written agreement between you and the agency or Minister that resolves the complaint;
  • requiring the agency or Minister to produce documents; or
  • making recommendations to the agency or Minister, for example, to make improvements to policies, procedures, or systems.

When can a complaint be dismissed?

If we accept the agency or Minister has not made an error, or where they have taken reasonable steps to correct any error made, we will not use our formal processes.

In these circumstances we will try to assist you with further information about how you might resolve your complaint outside our complaints process. For example, by suggesting terms for a new request or referring you to somewhere else that can deal with your complaint.

If you do not consent to closing your complaint, fail to respond to our enquiries, or we consider we have taken all relevant action in relation to your complaint, we may decide to dismiss your complaint.

Can I appeal if my complaint is dismissed?

If your complaint is dismissed you are unable to appeal to another organisation or body.

If we dismiss your complaint we will provide you with written reasons so you understand why we made the decision to dismiss your complaint.

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