6.6.2 Gaining access to documents
Wherever possible, documents will be made available to a person without requiring them to apply under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act). This topic explains when a person will be required to formally request access under the FOI Act and how to make such a request.
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Information on the child support scheme, including child support forms, brochures, booklets and policy, are freely available to the public. Many of these documents are available on the Services Australia website or the Department of Social Services website.
Also, requests are often received from parents and stakeholders who seek access to other documents held by Services Australia or DSS. Access to documents will be provided without the formalities of a request under the FOI Act, where possible.
In some situations a formal request under the FOI Act will be required.
Most requests for access to information are made to Services Australia, who deliver services to child support paying parents and payees under the scheme. The Services Australia operational guidelines, policies, procedures and training materials are available to the public upon request through the Information Publication Scheme.
Copies of documents that have been sent to Services Australia (including letters and forms) can be made available to the person who sent them. Services Australia will also provide records of conversations with staff on the request of the person involved in the call and will provide copies of court orders and agreements to the parents involved.
Where there is an informal request for large amounts of information, an administrative decision may be made to not process the request. However, the person making the request is still able to lodge a formal FOI request.
Example: Mark asks for a copy of the child support agreement and the application for acceptance form that they lodged. An officer sends Mark a copy after deleting personal details of any other person which may have been recorded on it (e.g. tax file number, address, phone number, department identifier).
Requests under the FOI Act
Generally, where a request includes documents containing information about other people, a request under the FOI Act is needed. This includes requests for copies of letters, or records of telephone conversations about another person or the other parent. Also, secrecy provisions (6.3.3) contained in child support legislation will apply to documents containing third party information and could result in the information or document requested being exempt under the FOI Act.
Example: Leyla requests access to the 'whole department file' involving Leyla. As the Services Australia records for Leyla's child support entitlement would include documents containing information about third parties, an FOI request would be necessary.
If the work involved in processing the request would require a substantial and unreasonable diversion of resources, a decision may be made to refuse the request. In such circumstances, an applicant is provided the opportunity to revise the scope of the request.
Further information about making a formal FOI request related to service delivery or policy matters may be obtained from the Services Australia and DSS websites respectively.