Changes to ACT Freedom of Information legislation come into effect today

Changes to the Freedom of Information Act 2016 (FOI Act) come into effect on 15 October 2019, which impact how ACT agencies are required to process access applications and the ACT Ombudsman’s FOI review processes. The changes are mainly operational, and are designed to improve processing of access applications.

Processing of your access application can now be extended by the time it takes you to respond to a request to clarify the information you are seeking, or confirm fees payable on your application. It can also be suspended if you fail to respond and the agency is unable to contact you.

If you do make a formal access application, you are encouraged to provide as much detail as you can to help the agency identify the information you are looking for and avoid processing delays. Don’t forget there are also other quicker ways to access government information and we recommend first checking that the information you want is not already available online.

Changes have also been made to Ombudsman FOI review processing timeframes.  Our Office will help to try to resolve reviews, via informal resolution processes where possible, within 30 working days.

Where this is not possible, we now have a further 30 working days to finalise our review. We can also finalise a review if the relevant agency separately resolves the case or we are unable to contact the applicant.

Other changes to the FOI Act include:

  • an additional ground for non-publication of information on an agency’s disclosure log where it is about an applicant’s business, commercial, financial or professional affairs and publication would be unreasonable
  • agencies are no longer required to give notice regarding an FOI decision they made out of time until that matter is finalised
  • they still must tell the Ombudsman and the relevant application will be deemed to be refused
  • agencies can no longer seek extensions of time from an applicant longer than 12 months in total. Longer extensions must be sought from the Ombudsman
  • the Ombudsman has greater flexibility to provide an agency with an extension of time to process an access application

When deciding whether to grant an extension, the Ombudsman will take into account the objects of the FOI Act and the importance of encouraging timely resolution of access applications

For more information on the operation of the FOI Act in the ACT, see here.