Admin access or RTI?

June 1, 2014 - 12:10pm

Wherever possible, formal applications for government-held information under the Right to Information Act 2009 (RTI Act) and the Information Privacy Act 2009 (IP Act) should only be made as a last resort.1

But not all applicants are aware of this and sometimes you might receive an application for access to documents that are available through your agency’s administrative access scheme.

Because each agency has its own unique functions, responsibilities, sensitivities and types of documents, what one agency is happy to release under administrative access may not be appropriate for administrative release in another.

While it is up to each agency to determine how it will manage the situation where an applicant applies under RTI for information that is available administratively, the following tips are a helpful reminder of the considerations involved:

  • Communicate with your applicant. By informing them that there is an established administrative access scheme in place that allows them to access the information informally, they will be able to make an informed decision about whether they wish to proceed with their RTI application. Remember, if the applicant decides to access the information administratively, you are still required to issue a decision notice, unless the applicant withdraws their application.
  • Ensure they can access the same information. Some administrative access schemes limit who can apply for specific information, for example, the information must be about the applicant. Parts of the information may also be withheld if it is confidential or sensitive. Be clear about whether the information is the same as what the applicant requests in their access application and ensure they understand any restrictions.
  • Respect the applicant’s decision. In some circumstances, the applicant may have personal reasons for making the formal application for access to the documents, i.e. they require a formal written decision from the agency or they wish to retain their rights of review. If this is the case, you can process the request under the RTI Act, even though the Act allows you to refuse to give access to a document if other access is available.

In any event, if a person makes an access application for a document of an agency, you must consider the application and issue a written decision. If the agency decides to provide the documents using the administrative access scheme, it must still make a decision that access is refused under the RTI Act on the grounds that other access is available, unless the application has been withdrawn.

1. As outlined in the preamble to the RTI Act.