Substantial and unreasonable diversion of agency resources – a guide for applicants

Can the agency refuse to deal with my application because it’s too big or asks for too many documents?


An agency1 can refuse to deal with your application if they anticipate that the work involved in processing it would substantially and unreasonably divert their resources.

When considering if it would be a substantial and unreasonable diversion, the agency might take into account:

  • the number and size of documents you are asking for
  • the availability of agency resources to manage the application
  • the ability of the agency to perform their other functions; and
  • the time limit allowed in the Act for making a decision.

I’ve received a letter telling me that the agency intends to refuse to deal with my application. What does this mean?

Before the agency can refuse to deal with your application, it has to give you the opportunity to change the scope2 of your application. They will do this by sending you a letter informing you of their intention to refuse to process your application. The agency must give you this opportunity to change your application before they refuse to process your application.

Note

The agency is not refusing to deal with your application when they send you the first letter. They are informing you that if you are unable to change your application so they can process it, then they may refuse to deal with it.

Because they are not refusing to deal with your application at this stage, they haven’t made a decision yet and you have no review rights. Rather, they have informed you of their intention to refuse to deal with it, unless your application is changed.

What should I do now?

If you get a letter from the agency stating that it intends to refuse to deal with your application, you should contact them to discuss how you could change your application to reduce the amount of work involved in processing it.

What you need to do to change your application will depend on what you are applying for and the agency’s specific reasons for why they believe they do not have the resources to deal with it. 

It is a good idea to talk about this with the agency to see if they can assist you. The agency may be able to recommend some options as they know what resources they have available to manage your application.

Examples

Some examples of ways you might remove the ground for refusal include:

  • providing a specific date range or reducing the date range for the documents you are seeking
  • excluding certain categories of documents (for example, duplicate documents, bank statements, receipts, or documents you sent to the agency)
  • identifying a specific file number or reference number, if you know it
  • stating that you are not requesting access to other people’s personal information
  • being specific about what documents you want (for example, “I request access to all correspondence, reports and Environmental Impact Statements which led to Council’s decision to build a waterfall in Green Park”)

Narrowing your request could also reduce the processing and access charges payable if the agency decides it can process it.

If you are unable or do not wish to narrow your application then you can confirm your application as you originally made it. 

However, if you confirm your original request then the agency will most likely decide to refuse to deal with your application in its current form.

When do I have to respond?

The letter from the agency will give you a specific date that you must respond by.  Usually, you will have at least 10 business days from the date on the letter to consult with the agency.  If you think you need longer to discuss your application with the agency and change the scope of your request then you can ask the agency for further time. 

Do I need to respond in writing?

Yes. You must respond in writing within the timeframe specified by the agency, even if you have spoken with the agency on the phone or in person.

If you do not respond in writing, your application will be considered to be withdrawn and you will have no right of review.  

What happens after I write back to the agency?

If you narrow your application

If you narrow the scope of your application, the agency will consider the changed wording of your request and decide if it can process it.

If the agency decides the new request can be processed, it will follow its usual decision-making processes.3 

Alternatively, if the agency decides that your narrowed application would still result in a substantial and unreasonable diversion of resources, they will advise you in writing of their decision to refuse to deal with it.

If the agency makes a decision to refuse to deal with your application, you can apply for an internal and/or external review within 20 business days of the date of the written decision if you do not agree with their decision to refuse to deal with your application.

If you confirm your original request

If you write to advise the agency that you do not wish to change the scope of your application, then the agency will likely make a decision to refuse to deal with your application on the grounds that to do so would be a substantial and unreasonable diversion of the agency’s resources.  They will provide you with a written notice of that decision. 

Again, you can apply for an internal and/or external review of the decision to refuse to deal with your application within 20 business days of the date of the written decision if you do not agree with it.4