FOI Frequently Asked Questions
To help you navigate the Freedom of Information process, a number of frequently asked questions and answers are provided here.
What is Freedom of Information (FOI)?
The Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) was created to promote openness, accountability and transparency in the Victorian public service by giving the public the right to access government information. The object of the Act is to ‘extend as far as possible the right of the community to access documents in the possession of the Government of Victoria’.
All members of the public have the right to apply for access to documents held by government ministers and agencies including departments, hospitals, schools, TAFE and universities.
What information can I access?
Under the Freedom of Information Act, you have the right to apply for access to documents that are held by Victoria SES. This includes:
- Documents created by VICSES;
- Documents supplied to VICSES by an external organisation or individual.
You can apply for access to:
- Documents about your personal affairs, regardless of the age of the documents;
- Documents of a non-personal nature, not older than 5 July 1978.
It is not only documents in paper form that are accessible. The word 'documents' covers a broad range of media including maps, films, microfiche, photographs, computer printouts, emails, computer discs, tape recordings and videotapes.
Is there anything I can’t access?
Not all documents are automatically available.
The Freedom of Information Act allows VICSES to refuse access to certain documents or information. These documents or information are often called ‘exempt’ documents.
In some cases you may be refused access to an entire document. Alternatively, you may be given access to a document with exempt information deleted.
Here is a list of some documents that you may not be able to access:
- Cabinet documents;
- Some internal working documents;
- Law enforcement documents;
- Documents covered by legal professional privilege, such as legal advice;
- Documents containing personal information about other people;
- Documents containing information provided to an agency in confidence;
- Documents containing information provided to an agency by a business;
- Documents which are covered by secrecy provisions in other legislation.
This should not deter you from asking for access as each document is assessed on its merits before a decision is made.
Can someone make a FOI request on my behalf?
Yes. You can authorise another person (e.g. a solicitor) to make a request on your behalf. If you would like someone to make a request on your behalf for your personal information, you must provide written authorisation. The Freedom of Information Client Authority Form (PDF) or FOI Client Authority Form (Word) can be used for this purpose.
How do I make a valid request?
You can request access to documents held by VICSES by writing to the FOI & Privacy Officer and including payment of the $29.60 application fee. This can be done by either:
Emailing your request to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will then send you a payment form for payment of the required application fee;
Telephoning the FOI & Privacy Officer on 9256 9000 to provide your credit card payment details over the telephone or leaving your details to receive a call back to take payment.
Writing a letter, or downloading the application form and sending it, along with payment of the application fee, to:
Freedom of Information & Privacy Officer
Victoria State Emergency Service
168 Sturt Street
Southbank VIC 3006
In order for a request to be valid under the FOI Act it must be:
- in writing – this can include via email. Requests cannot be made by way of a telephone call, for example;
- clear to VICSES what it is you’re seeking. If it isn’t clear, then our Freedom of Information & Privacy Officer will be in touch to help clarify your request; and
- accompanied by payment of the application fee (although this may be waived if proof is provided of hardship)
How much does it cost to make an FOI request?
There are two costs associated with making an FOI request:
· The application fee
· The access charges
The application fee is a fixed cost which is non-refundable. The only exception is for people suffering hardship who can ask the agency to waive the application fee.
Access charges relate to the costs incurred in granting access to the documents that you have requested.
These costs may or may not apply depending on the nature of your request. The following table outlines these costs. All fees and charges are exempt from GST.
- Application Fee
The Application fee is $29.60 from 1 July 2019 (non-refundable unless fee is waived)
- Access Charges
Access charges are set by government regulations. You can download a copy of these regulations from Freedom of Information Regulations. Further information about FOI fees and charges can be found at the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner (OVIC) website.
What other ways are there of accessing VICSES information?
You may be able to access our information without going through the FOI process. Before you submit an FOI request, it may be worthwhile to contact us to find out if we can provide the information to you outside the FOI process. Alternatively, please refer to our Part II Statement.
If you need documents for a court case or some type of litigation, speak to your legal advisor about your options for accessing those documents.
What happens after VICSES receives my FOI request?
Once your request has been received, VICSES will conduct an initial assessment. If your request is valid, we will process it. We will contact you if we require further information or clarification.
If VICSES is not in possession of the documents requested, the request may be transferred to another agency.
How quickly will my request be processed?
VICSES has 30 days to respond to your request (assuming it is valid) after the day it was received. This may be extended by a further 15 days if VICSES is required to undertake consultation with third parties. VICSES may also seek your consent in certain circumstances to extend the initial 30 day period by up to an additional 30 days.
What are the possible outcomes of my FOI request?
Once VICSES has reached a decision about your request, we will send you a letter informing you of the decision. VICSES may decide to:
- release the documents you requested in their entirety;
- release part of the documents you requested;
- release none of the documents you requested; or
- advise you that there are no relevant documents in the possession of VICSES.