Under the Victorian Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act), you have the right to request access to documents held by Victorian public sector agencies. This right of access is subject to limited exceptions and exemptions. The FOI Act applies to:
- government departments and Ministers;
- local councils;
- public hospitals;
- public schools, universities and TAFEs; and
- statutory authorities.
Before making a request
Before you make a formal request for access to documents, there are a number of things to consider:
- Is the information you seek in a document?
The FOI Act gives you the right to request access to documents. Generally, you cannot request information that does not exist in an existing document or answers to questions under the FOI Act. Remember, a request must be for information contained in documents.
- Identify the agency that has the document you seek
Contact the agency to confirm if it has the document before making your request. The agency may be able to tell you how to obtain the document without a formal request, or if another agency has the document.
- Is the document you seek publicly available?
For example, it may be published on an agency’s website or available for purchase from the agency.
- Why do you want access to the document or information?
Consider informing the agency of your reason for seeking access to the document or information, or if you plan to use the document or information for a specific purpose. This may assist the agency to consider whether it can informally release the document or information to you without the need for a formal request.
Making a request
A valid request
Under the FOI Act, your request for documents must meet three requirements to be valid:
- your request must be in writing;
- you must provide sufficient information about the documents you are requesting so the agency can locate relevant documents; and
- you must pay the application fee, or request the agency waive the fee due to hardship.
Making a request in writing
There are different ways to submit a request in writing, for example by email or letter. Some agencies may have an online portal or a proforma application form that can be useful in guiding you to a valid request. Look online or contact the agency to find out the best way to submit a request.
All agencies are required to allow requests to be made by email. You can find an agency’s freedom of information contact details by searching our online agency database.
If you are requesting your personal information or personal records, you should provide proof of your identity, such as a driver’s licence or other identification. If you do not do this, the agency may not be able to release the documents you have requested.
Making sure your request is clear
When making your request you should be clear and specific about the documents you are requesting access to. Your request needs to provide sufficient information for the agency to identify and locate all relevant documents.
When writing your request, you should be specific about what documents you are seeking and include as much information as possible. Think about:
- what the documents relate to (for example, a complaint you made, or a particular project);
- the date range in which the documents may have been created;
- where the documents might be located (for example, in John Smith’s email account, or a specific business or work unit in an agency); and
- the type of document you seek (for example, an email, report, CCTV footage).
It can also be helpful to exclude certain documents or information from your request if it isn’t particularly necessary or relevant. For example, you could specify that you don’t want:
- draft documents;
- commercial or personal information relating to other people.
Excluding documents or information may allow the agency to process your request more quickly. If your request is not clear enough, the agency will contact you and take reasonable steps to help you clarify which documents you want to access.
Paying the application fee
Before submitting your request, it is a good idea to check online or contact the agency to find out how you can pay the application fee.
Agencies are able to waive or reduce the application fee if it would cause you financial hardship. If you request the application fee to be waived or reduced, you should provide evidence of hardship – for example, a concession or health care card, a bank statement, or statutory declaration outlining why payment would cause you hardship.
The application fee increases each year on 1 July. Before submitting your request, confirm how much the application fee is, either by contacting the agency or going to the website of the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner (OVIC).
After a request has been made
If the request is not valid
If your request is not valid, the agency will contact you within 21 days and let you know why it is not valid. The agency will try to provide assistance or advice on how you can make a valid request. You should work with the agency to try and make your request valid.
If an agency advises you that your request is not valid, it must give you at least 21 days to make a valid request. If you do not begin consulting with the agency about how to make your request valid, or you have not made a valid request after 21 days, the agency is not required to begin processing your request and may decide to finalise it.
If the request is valid
Once you make a valid request, the agency will begin processing it. Generally an agency will send you a letter acknowledging receipt of your request; however, the FOI Act does not require an agency to do so.
An agency has between 30 to 45 days from the date you make a valid request to provide you with a decision. The timeframe will depend on whether or not the agency needs additional time to consult with third parties whose information may be contained in the requested documents. The timeframe can be extended beyond 30 to 45 days if you provide your consent.
If you do not receive a decision after 30 to 45 days, or a further period you as consented by you, contact the agency and ask them for an update. There can be a number of reasons why the request has been delayed and the agency can discuss these with you.
You can also contact OVIC to provide you with further guidance or assistance.
Disclaimer: The information in this document is general in nature and does not constitute legal advice.
Version: 1.0, September 2019