Charge for supply of information about community grants

Official Information Act 1982
Section 15
Legislation display text:
Official Information Act 1982, s 15(1A)
Department of Labour
Mel Smith
Case number(s):
Issue date:

Cannot charge for time required due to administrative inefficiencies or poor record-keeping—public interest in MPs having access to official information to assist in the reasonable exercise of their democratic responsibilities warranted 10 per cent remission.

An MP made 42 OIA requests for information related to 42 separate grants made by the former Community Employment Group (CEG) of the then Department of Labour. The requested information included copies of contracts, evaluations, communications with the grantees, internal reports, and reports to the Minister. These repeated requests were aggregated for charging purposes, and the Department advised a charge of $15,197.50. The requester complained to the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman noted that some of the time required was to cope with a loss of institutional knowledge as a result of the disestablishment of the CEG. Even when the CEG was functioning, it was apparent that its administrative processes were less than robust, with an extremely old and unstable electronic database, which lacked a search function, and was incomplete and inconsistent with the corresponding paper files.

In the Ombudsman’s view, it would not be reasonable to make the requester bear the cost related to these administrative inefficiencies:

The requester should only have to meet costs that are comparable to those that would be reasonably charged by a properly-functioning administrative organisation where the processing of official information requests is a core output and funded accordingly.

The Ombudsman still accepted, however, that it would take approximately 3.25 hours to retrieve and collate the relevant information in respect of each of the 42 separate grants, requiring a total processing time of 136.5 hours. The Ombudsman formed the opinion that the charge should be reduced to $10,298.

The Ombudsman also considered whether the charge should be remitted in recognition of the public interest in MPs having access to official information to assist in the reasonable exercise of their democratic responsibilities. However, he was not persuaded that the public interest justified remission of the entire charge. He concluded the charge should be remitted by 10 per cent, resulting in a reasonable charge of $9268.20.

This case note is published under the authority of the Ombudsmen Rules 1989. It sets out an Ombudsman’s view on the facts of a particular case. It should not be taken as establishing any legal precedent that would bind an Ombudsman in future.

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