Frequently Asked Questions
1. Do I need to use Freedom of Information (FOI) for all
No. The FOI Act does not prevent access to documents being
provided in other ways, as long as the law allows it. Every day,
government and other public bodies respond to requests for general
information from the public without requiring an FOI application.
It is worth contacting the agency concerned to find out if you can
access the information you want without making an FOI
2. Who may make an FOI request?
The FOI Act gives 'every person' a legally enforceable right to
obtain access to a document other than an exempt document. 'Every
person' in this context includes persons resident in Australia or
abroad, whether or not they are Australians citizens, companies,
prisoners, or children.
3. What are my rights?
The FOI Act gives you the right to:
- access copies of documents (except exempt documents) held by
- ask for information concerning you to be changed (if it is
incomplete, out of date, incorrect or misleading); and
- seek a review of a decision not to allow you access to a
document or not to amend your personal record. This review can be
done internally or by the Information Commissioner (IC).
The IC can be contacted on 1300 363 992 or via their website at
4. What if I'm an employee or former employee of the SSAT?
If you are an employee or former employee of the SSAT, there are
established procedures in place to allow access to your own
personnel records. If you wish to see your own personnel records,
you must first use those procedures.
If you wish to seek access to your own personnel records, contact
the SSAT's Human Resources Unit on telephone 03 8626 4929.
If you are dissatisfied with the result of using these procedures
or you are not notified within 30 days of the outcome of the
request for your records, you may then make a request under the FOI
5. What is a 'document'?
The term 'document' is very broadly defined to include any
record of information and includes:
- each hard copy of a document;
- electronic documents - including emails, each electronic
version of a document and databases;
- DVDs and video tape or film recordings;
- sound recordings;
- maps and diagrams;
- transcripts of sound recordings or shorthand notes; and
- mobile telephone SMS (text) messages.
Access to documents under the FOI Act may be granted in the
- inspection of a document;
- provision of a copy of a document;
- provision of a means to view a film, videotape or sound
- provision of a transcript of a sound recording or of shorthand
- provision of a computer printout; and
- magnetic data.
If you would like access to documents in a particular form, you
should specify the form of access in your application.
6. Are there other documents I can see?
The FOI Act applies to documents held by the SSAT no matter how
old, that relate to your personal affairs and documents created
after 1 December 1977 that relate to anything else (they can be
older if you need them to understand another document you already
7. Are there types of documents I may not be able to see?
Yes. The FOI Act identifies certain types of documents which you
may not be able to see. These are called exempt documents and
- personal information about anyone other than yourself;
- documents affecting national security, defence or international
- cabinet documents (eg. documents submitted or proposed to be
submitted to Cabinet, official records of Cabinet and any extracts
of these documents);
- documents affecting the enforcement of a law for the protection
of public safety;
- documents to which secrecy provisions of enactments apply;
- documents subject to legal professional privilege;
- documents containing material obtained in confidence;
- documents disclosure of which would be contempt of Parliament
or contempt of court;
- documents disclosing trade secrets or commercially valuable
- electoral rolls and related documents.
The following exemptions are known as Conditional Exemptions and
are therefore subject to a public interest test, meaning that
information will be released unless it is contrary to the public
- documents related to Commonwealth State relations;
- documents related to deliberative processes;
- documents related to financial property interests of the
- documents related to certain operations of agencies;
- documents containing personal privacy;
- documents containing information about business, research
and/or the economy.
Factors favouring access to a document in the public interest
include whether giving access to the document would:
- promote the objects of the Act;
- inform debate on a matter of public importance;
- promote effective oversight of public expenditure;
- allow a person to access his or her own personal
8. How do I make an FOI request?
In order for the SSAT to process your request as quickly as
possible, at the lowest possible cost, your request must:
- be made in writing;
- state that you are seeking information in accordance with the
- provide enough information for the SSAT to clearly identify the
scope of your request, the time periods your request falls under
and the category of documents sought. i.e. reports, minutes, emails
- specify an address (either email or physical) so the SSAT can
correspond with you about your request.
Although not a requirement under the FOI Act, you may also wish
to provide a phone number to make it easier for us to consult with
you about your request.
No form is necessary, but the sample application form provided by the
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is a useful guide to
the matters that should be addressed in your FOI application.
FOI requests should be sent to:
Freedom of Information Officer
Social Security Appeals Tribunal
PO Box 218
Collins St West
MELBOURNE VIC 8007
Telephone: (03) 8626 4937
or via email to FOI@ssat.gov.au
The FOI Act requires the SSAT to take reasonable steps to assist
an applicant in making a valid FOI request.
9. What must the SSAT do when it gets my request?
The FOI Act imposes certain time limits in respect of requests.
The SSAT will:
- provide you with written acknowledgment that your request has
been received within 14 days;
- deal with your application as quickly as possible;
- contact you to discuss any difficulties in dealing with your
- provide you with an estimate of the charges if there are any
that are applicable. See How much will it cost
- advise you of the decision about giving you access within 30
days. (If the SSAT has to seek advice from another party, the SSAT
may extend the time it takes to advise you of an access decision by
another 30 days. This would normally only occur where the document
you have requested contains information about the third
10. How much will it cost
Application fees have been abolished.
retrieval: time we spend searching for or retrieving
$15.00 per hour
making: time we spend in deciding to grant or refuse
a request, including examining documents, consulting with other
parties, and making deletions
First five hours: Nil
Subsequent hours: $20 per hour
preparing a transcript from a sound recording, shorthand or similar
$4.40 per page of transcript
$0.10 per page
supervision by an agency officer of your inspection of documents or
hearing or viewing an audio or visual recording at our premises
$6.25 per half hour (or part
posting or delivering a copy of a document at your request
Cost of postage or delivery
If we decide to impose a charge, we will give you a written
estimate and the basis of our calculation. Where the estimated
charge is between $20 and $100, we may ask you to pay a deposit of
$20, or where the estimated charge exceeds $100, we may ask you to
pay a 25% deposit before we process your request.
Exemption and remission
- You can seek a waiver/remission of fees on the grounds of
financial hardship or public interest, or any other factor you feel
may be relevant. If you wish to have your request considered for
reduced charges or free of charge, please include these reasons in
your application. Where the SSAT decides that you are liable to pay
a charge for access to a document, it must give you a written
notice stating its preliminary assessment of the charge;
- You may contend that the charge has been wrongly assessed, or
should be reduced or not imposed. In deciding whether to reduce or
not to impose a charge, the FOI Officer must, amongst other things,
take into account whether payment of the charge, or part of it,
would cause you financial hardship and whether the giving of access
to the documents is in the general public interest;
- A request to review the charges is considered an application
for internal review.
Where an estimated charge exceeds $25, a deposit may be
required. Where a deposit has been sought or a charge imposed, the
SSAT does not need to take further action until payment is
11. Why have I been refused access to a document?
While you are entitled to access a document, the SSAT may refuse
to give you access to some documents under the FOI Act because they
are exempt from disclosure documents. If it is possible to release
a document with exempt sections deleted, the SSAT will do so.
12. Why are there deletions in my document?
It is important to understand that the FOI Act provides for the
granting of access to documents that contain deletions. If, for
instance, documents contain any identifying information in relation
to a person other than the applicant, this material may be deleted
from the documentation.
The SSAT will not release documents if the document subsequently
released would be meaningless, misleading or unintelligible.
13. Can I have documents containing personal information about
The FOI Act gives you the right to request the SSAT to amend a
document to which you have had lawful access and where you
- that the document contains "personal information" about
- that is incomplete, incorrect, out of date or misleading;
- has been used, is being used, or is available for use by the
SSAT for an administrative purpose.
Where the application for amendment is refused, the SSAT will
provide you with an opportunity to annotate the record. Annotation
is done by allowing you to add a statement to the record outlining
your objections. The SSAT will only refuse to annotate the record
if it considers that the statement is irrelevant, defamatory or
unnecessarily voluminous. The SSAT may also add a file note or
comment of its own if it so chooses.
To change your personal information:
- your request must be in writing and, as far as possible give
details of the document and the information you believe is
incomplete, incorrect, out of date or misleading;
- give reasons why you are asking for the amendments; and
- provide an address in Australia for us to reply to.
14. What will the SSAT do when it gets my request for amendment
of personal records?
The SSAT must deal with your request as soon as practicable and
tell you within 30 days what it has decided.
If it decides not to make the changes you asked for (or decides to
make different ones), it must tell you why and advise you of your
rights of appeal.
15. What FOI decisions can I appeal against?
Decisions not letting you see what you want, when you want it,
or in the form you want it;
- decisions imposing a charge to see what you want;
- decisions in respect of the amount of the charge imposed upon
- decisions refusing to change or annotate documents about you
which you think are incomplete, incorrect, out of date or
- decisions letting others see documents which you say would
- your personal information;
- your lawful business or professional affairs;
- lawful business, commercial or financial affairs of your
- decisions to give you access to documents about your physical
or mental health through a qualified person and not directly to
16. How can I make a complaint?
You may complain to the Australian Information Commissioner if
you have concerns about how an Australian Government agency handled
a request for documents under the Freedom of Information Act
1982 (the FOI Act) or took any other action under that Act. If
you are unhappy with the agency's decision about giving or refusing
access to documents, you should ask for the decision to be
reviewed, which is a separate process.
17. What kinds of appeal rights do I have?
If you are dissatisfied with the decision, the FOI Act provides
the following avenues of review:
- You may request an internal review of a decision within 30 days
of being notified of the decision or within 15 days of viewing the
- Write to the SSAT, detailing your reasons for seeking an
- Include an address where the SSAT can send correspondence;
- Send your request for internal review to:
FOI Review Officer
Social Security Appeals Tribunal
PO Box 218
Collins St West
Melbourne VIC 8007
or via email to FOI@ssat.gov.au
A new decision maker will be appointed to make a fresh decision
on the request. The SSAT will tell you of the new decision and the
reasons for the decision within 30 days.
If you are dissatisfied with the internal review decision, you can
request the SSAT undertake another internal review or contact the
Information Commissioner (IC) to review the decision or make a
complaint. The application for IC review can be made following the
initial decision by the SSAT, or after internal review. It is not
necessary for you to go through an internal review process first
before applying for an IC review.
The IC can be contacted on 1300 363 992 or via their website at www.oaic.gov.au
External merits review
From 1 November 2010 a new appeals process is in place which
encompasses a two-tier external merits review system:
- Information Commissioner;
- Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
Information Commissioner (IC) Review
- You can apply to the IC for a merit review of an access refusal
decision by the SSAT and an affected third party can apply for
review of an access grant decision. The application for IC review
can be made following the initial decision by the SSAT, or after
internal review. It is not necessary for you to go through an
internal review process first before applying for an IC
- The IC can affirm, vary or substitute a new decision, and the
Commissioner's decision is binding;
- If the IC decides to review the decision, the review
application process has a timeframe of 60 days for access refusal
decisions or where the SSAT has been 'deemed' to have refused
access, and 30 days for access grant decisions;
- Your application must be made in writing and include a copy of
the original/internal review decision;
- Applications to the IC do not attract an application fee.
IC reviews are designed to be informal, non-adversarial and
timely. Most matters will be reviewed on the papers rather than
through formal hearings. The IC may obtain any information from any
person or make any inquiries that he/she considers appropriate.
You can request a review by the IC in writing, or by using their
online merits review form. Further information is available on
their website at www.oaic.gov.au
Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT)
- A party to the IC review can apply to the Administrative
Appeals Tribunal (AAT) for review of the IC's decision, except in
some limited circumstances;
- Also, the IC can decline to undertake a review and refer the
matter to the AAT;
- A person cannot apply to the AAT for review of the IC's
decision not to undertake or continue a review. However, a
complaint may be made to the Commonwealth Ombudsman.
Investigation of complaints
- The IC can investigate action taken by agencies under the FOI
Act, either on response to a complaint (e.g. about the SSAT's delay
or lack of assistance), or on the IC's own motion;
- The Commonwealth Ombudsman retains authority to investigate
complaints against SSAT action under the FOI Act, although it is
expected that the IC will deal with most FOI complaints.
- Many FOI requests will often involve third parties;
- Under the FOI Act, affected third parties must be given the
opportunity to make submissions on how they will be affected if
information pertaining to them is released. Such information could
include an individual's personal information, or information
relating to an organisation's business, commercial or financial
- If the SSAT believes you are a third party that may be affected
by the release of such information, it will write to you and ask
you to submit your concerns. The decision-maker will take your
concerns into consideration when making his/her decision about
whether or not to release the information;
- If, as a third party, you have objected to the release of the
information, but the SSAT decides the information should be
released, you will be notified of the decision at the same time as
- You have the right to apply for an internal review of the
decision or to lodge an appeal with the IC for review of the
decision, within 30 days of receiving notice of the decision;
- You are also entitled to complain to the IC if you are
dissatisfied with the SSAT's decision or the way in which the
request was handled.
18. I don't think the SSAT is complying with the scheme - can I
make a complaint?
Yes. Anyone can complain to the
Information Commissioner about an agency's performance in relation
to the information publication scheme. You may lodge a
complaint in writing in one of the following ways:
Post: GPO Box 2999, Canberra ACT
Fax: +61 2 9284 9666
In person: Level 3, 175 Pitt Street,
Sydney, NSW 2000
The complaint must identify the agency against whom the
complaint is made. The Information Commissioner's staff can help
you with lodging your complaint.
19. Does the Information Commissioner have to investigate my
No. The Information Commissioner can
decide not to investigate, or not to continue to investigate, a
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