Request for information about access to staff records
Information held is incomplete but it should be released along with a contextual statement—s 18(g) does not apply—staff recollections should also be provided
The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) asked the Waikato District Health Board (the DHB) whether human resources staff had accessed employee records maintained by the DHB’s Health and Safety Service, and if so, since when, and how many records had been accessed.
The DHB provided confirmation that human resources staff had accessed the records when necessary, but advised that ‘Health and Safety do not maintain records of who has accessed the records’. It refused to provide ‘details of when and how many records have been accessed’ under section 18(g) of the OIA.
The ASMS complained to the Ombudsman, advising that DHB staff had said there was a ledger recording the date a file was removed, who by, and when it was returned. They also stated that relevant information ought to be held in the minds of the human resources staff.
During the investigation, the DHB explained that because the records were hard copy only, it could not electronically audit access to them. It said there was no ledger, but when a file is removed from the room, a card is completed marking its absence. The card records who removed the file and when. Cards are used multiple times before being discarded. The cards will not record those instances when a file was accessed but not removed from the room.
The Ombudsman found that, although limited information was held, it was not the case that no information was held. The marker cards may not have contained all the requested information, but that was not a reason to withhold the relevant information they did contain. A contextual statement could be provided regarding the purpose of the marker cards and the limitations of the information they provided.
The Ombudsman also considered that information in the minds of the human resources staff should have been provided. Official information includes information which is known to an agency, but which has not yet been written down. While this information may not be precise, staff could have given some indication of how many records they had accessed and when that practice began.
The Ombudsman formed the opinion that section 18(g) did not provide a proper reason for refusal. The DHB agreed to release the information in the marker cards, and the recollections of the human resources staff, with appropriate contextual information.
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.