What to expect when you apply for documents

This Information Sheet will give you an overview of what to expect after you have made a valid application under the Right to Information Act 2009 (Qld) (RTI Act) or the Information Privacy Act 2009 (Qld) (IP Act).1

Note

This resource provides general information only. Contact the agency2 you applied to if you have questions about your specific application.

If I apply, will I get access?

You may not be given access to everything; it depends what you apply for. Generally, you will not get access to other people’s personal information, to the name of someone who made a complaint about you, or to information about an active investigation. Information that is subject to legal privilege or confidentiality or relates to a Crime and Corruption investigation is also unlikely to be released.

These Information Sheets explain more:

The reason you may not get access to information is because the Acts set out specific kinds of information that is not released, either because it is exempt or because releasing it would be contrary to the public interest. Please refer to What is Exempt Information and What is the Public Interest for more information.

Contact from the agency

The agency is not required to acknowledge receipt of your application, which means you may not be contacted by the agency if your application is valid and able to be processed.

However, the agency should contact you if there are problems with your application, for example if they need more information, or they need to clarify anything about the documents you want to access. If you want to confirm your application has been received and that there are no issues with it, you will need to contact the RTI Unit directly.

The OIC Enquiries Service does not have access to your application but they may be able to assist you in contacting the relevant agency's RTI Unit. The Enquiries Service can be contacted on 07 3234 7373 or by emailing enquiries@oic.qld.gov.au.

How long will your application take to process?

The Acts provide a base 25 business days for an agency to process your application, which does not include weekends or public holidays.  This is called the ‘processing period’ and begins when the agency has your valid application.

It may take longer than 25 business days to process your application, however. This is because the Acts allow additional time for certain actions required by the Acts to occur. For example, if the agency has to consult with a third party, they are given ten extra business days; for RTI applications, when the agency has to issue a charges estimate notice (explained below), there is extra time set out in the Act for that process to happen.

Extensions of time

The Acts allows an agency to ask you for extra time to work on your application. They are allowed to keep working on your application unless you refuse the request. If you do not want to give the agency extra time, you need to tell the agency, preferably in writing. An agency can ask for more than one extension, however you do not have to agree, even if you agreed to the first extension.

Your review rights will not be impacted by the agency having extra time to work on your application

How much will it cost?

Processing charges

There are no processing charges for IP Act applications. If you applied under the RTI Act there may be processing charges, but they won't apply for any work on documents that contain your personal information.

Processing charges apply for the time taken by the agency to process your application, for example, the time they spend searching for or retrieving the documents and making a decision on your application.

If the agency spends less than 5 hours working on your application the processing charges will be waived.

Access charges

There may be access charges under both the RTI Act and the IP Act. These are the costs of giving access to the documents, usually standard photocopying costs, but they can be more specialised, such as the costs of duplicating large maps or transcribing audio recordings. The access charges will not apply if you choose to get your copies electronically, such as on a CD or by email—but depending on how large the files are, the agency may not be able to email them to you.

Financial hardship

If you hold one of the specific concession cards named in the Acts you, can have the processing and access charges waived on financial hardship grounds. For more information refer to the Information Sheet Applying for financial hardship as an individual.

If you are a non-profit organisation in financial hardship you could consider applying for financial hardship status from the Information Commissioner. See How to Apply for financial hardship – non-profits for more information.

Charges Estimate Notice (CEN)

If you applied under the RTI Act, the agency will give you a written estimate of how much your application is likely to cost. This is called a ‘charges estimate notice’ or CEN and your application cannot proceed until you accept it.

Do I need to respond to a CEN?

When you receive the CEN you can agree to accept the estimated charges. If you don’t want to do that you can:

  • narrow the scope of your application to reduce the estimated charges
  • withdraw your application; or
  • if you hold a concession card recognised by the Acts, apply for a waiver of the charges.

The agency will usually give you a schedule of documents (see below) with the CEN, which may help you to identify documents you could decide to remove from your application. This could reduce the scope of your application and possibly the amount of the estimated charge. It can be important to talk to the agency during this process.

If you narrow or reduce the scope of your application, or successfully apply for financial hardship, the agency will give you a second CEN. When you receive the second CEN you must either accept it, even if it is for zero dollars, or withdraw your application.

An agency can only issue two CENs so it is important to ensure you complete your discussions with the agency about reducing the scope of your application before the second CEN is issued.

The final amount you will need to pay when your application is complete will not be more than the amount quoted in the CEN. You must pay the processing and/or access charges before any documents will be released to you and you have to pay them even if you are not given access to any documents.

Schedule of documents

If you applied under the RTI Act, the agency must give you a schedule of documents before the end of the processing period, unless you agree not to receive one. The schedule of documents sets out the general classes of documents the agency has found, for example, emails, plans etc.

The agency does not have to give you a schedule of documents if you applied under the IP Act.

Third party consultation

If an agency intends to release information that would concern a third party, the Acts require the agency to take reasonable steps to obtain their views. The third party is only consulted about two things:

  • is the document one to which the RTI Act/IP Act does not apply; and
  • is the information exempt or contrary to the public interest to release?

If a third party objects to release, the agency can still decide to give you access. However, the agency must delay giving you a copy of the document that contains the information so that the third party has a chance to seek a review. The agency should provide you with more detailed information if this occurs.

Decision notice and statement of reasons

When the agency has finished processing your application, it should send you a letter setting out its decision. Generally speaking, if a decision refuses access to a document in full or in part, the decision notice must state the reasons for the decision to refuse access and set out your rights to seek a review of the decision.

Decisions for access applications under the IP Act may also refer to sections of the RTI Act. This is because the IP Act says that an agency may refuse access using the same reasons for refusal set out in the RTI Act.

Review rights

The Acts give you the right to seek review of certain decisions under the legislation.  An overview of these review rights, including internal review and external review, are outlined in Explaining your review rights – a guide for applicants.

Deemed decision

If the agency does not give you a decision in the time allowed by the legislation this is called a ‘deemed decision’, as the agency is deemed to have refused you access to all the documents you applied for.

If this happens, you only have the right to apply to the OIC for an external review.  Sometimes, the agency may ask the Information Commissioner for more time to work on the application. Alternatively, the application may be dealt with by the OIC.

If you applied under the RTI Act and your application went deemed, the agency must refund your application fee.

  • 1 If you have been advised that your application is not valid or noncompliant then you should discuss this with the agency you applied to.
  • 2  In this information sheet all references to an ‘agency’ include Ministers, unless otherwise specified.

Current as at: November 27, 2020