How to make a freedom of information (FOI) request

The Commonwealth Freedom of Information Act 1982 (the FOI Act) provides a legally enforceable right to obtain access to documents held by agencies or official documents held by Ministers’ Offices. This right of access is subject to exemptions set out in the FOI Act.

The intent of the FOI Act is to contribute to an increase in public participation in government processes, with a view to promoting better informed decision-making and increasing scrutiny, discussion, comment and review of government activities.

Your rights

The FOI Act gives you the right to:

  • access documents (except exempt documents) we hold
  • ask for information we hold about you to be changed or annotated if it is incomplete, out of date, incorrect or misleading 
  • seek a review if you disagree with our decision not to allow you access to a document, or not to amend or annotate your personal record.

Exempt documents

We can refuse access to documents, or parts of documents, that are exempt. Exemptions may include documents that:

  • that disclose personal information about another person(s) (other than the applicant) and such disclosure is held to be contrary to the public interest
  • material obtained in confidence and Cabinet or other matters set out in the FOI Act
  • are subject to the various secrecy provisions listed in Schedule 3 of the FOI Act.

For more information about exemptions, see the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) website.

Things to consider before making a formal FOI request 

Before you make a formal request for access to documents, you should consider the following

Is the information you seek in a document?

The FOI Act gives you the right to request access to documents. The word ‘document’ has a very broad meaning under the FOI Act. Generally, under the FOI Act you cannot request information that does not exist in an existing document, nor can you request answers to questions. A request must be for information contained in documents in our possession at the date of your request.

Is the document you seek publicly available?

The FOI Act does not provide a right to request a document that is already publically available. For example, it may be published on our website, another website or elsewhere, or it may be available for purchase. 

You should also check to see if what you are seeking is already publicly available under our Information Publication Scheme or on our Departmental FOI Disclosure Log or our Portfolio Minsters FOI Disclosure Log.

Identify if we are the agency that has the document you seek

Contact our FOI enquiries line (02) 6146 8333 to confirm we have the document before making your request.

We may be able to tell you how to obtain the document without a formal request, or if another agency has the document.

Identify if you should direct your request for the document to the department or our portfolio ministers

Government agencies and their portfolio ministers are separate entities for the purpose of the FOI Act. Consider if the department or the portfolio minister may hold the document you seek. 

To request an official document held by the minister, you can contact the relevant Minister’s Office directly. 

How to make a FOI request to the department

To make a valid FOI request for a document held by the department, your request must:

  • be in writing (email is sufficient)
  • state that the request is an application for the purposes of the Commonwealth FOI Act
  • provide sufficient information to allow us to identify the document(s) you are seeking
  • provide contact details we can use to send you notices in relation to your request, for example an email or postal address.

Where to send your FOI request

You can send your FOI request:

  • by email to:
  • by post to:
    Freedom of Information Team
    Department of Social Services 
    GPO Box 9820
    Canberra ACT 2601
  • in person at a DSS office.

Fees and charges

There is no application fee for an FOI request.

There are no processing charges for requests for access to documents containing only your personal information. 

We may impose charges in accordance with the FOI Act and its regulations in relation to requests involving information other than your personal information. Any charges imposed will fairly reflect the work involved in providing access to the documents you have requested.

If we decide to impose a charge, we will give you a written estimate and the basis of our calculation. If the charge is above $20, you may be asked to pay a deposit before we process your request. The balance of the charges must be paid before documents are released.

You can ask for the charge to be waived or reduced for any reason, including financial hardship or on the grounds of public interest. If you do so, you should explain your reasons and you may need to provide some evidence.

What you can expect from us

We will tell you within 14 days that we have received your request.

If your request does not meet the requirements of a valid FOI request, we will let you know and assist you to make a valid request.

If the information you seek is not the type of information we hold, we will let you know and assist you to redirect your request.

We may transfer your request if it is a valid request and we know the document you seek is:

  • in the possession of another Commonwealth agency 
  • in the possession of a Minister’s Office 
  • has subject matter more closely connected with the functions of another agency or Minister’s Office.

We will provide you with our decision within 30 days unless that time has been extended, as allowed for under the FOI Act.

We will let you know as soon as reasonably practical and before the due date if the due date for our decision in response to your FOI request needs to be extended. For example, if a document contains information about a third party, we may need to extend our decision-making time by 30 days to consult with that third party. If your request is complex or voluminous, we may also seek your agreement to extend the time by up to 30 days.

When we have made a decision about your FOI request, we will send you a letter explaining our decision and your review rights for FOI.

Letter of authorisation for requests made on behalf of another person

If another person is requesting documents under a FOI request (or other request) on your behalf, if that request is for documents containing your personal information we will require a signed letter of authorisation from you. The letter must specifically authorise the department to send copies of your documents to that person.

Evidence of identity

If your FOI request is for documents that contain your personal information we will also need proof of your identity and the identity of that other person. Acceptable identity documents include:

  • a passport
  • an Australian driver's licence
  • any other official identification in the English language which contains your photo, signature and address.

Learn more about accessing your personal records.

FOI disclosure logs

Certain documents that we have released in response to requests under the FOI Act to the department are available on our Departmental FOI Disclosure Log.

Documents released under the FOI Act for our portfolio ministers are available on our Portfolio Ministers FOI Disclosure Log.

The publication of documents on the disclosure log must be done within 10 working days of an applicant receiving them.

The requirement to publish documents on the disclosure log does not apply to:

  • personal information about any person if publication of that information would be 'unreasonable'
  • information about the business, commercial, financial or professional affairs of any person if publication of that information would be 'unreasonable'
  • other information covered by a determination made by the Australian Information Commissioner if publication of that information would be 'unreasonable'
  • any information if it is not reasonably practicable to publish the information because of the extent of modifications that would need to be made to delete the information listed in the above dot points.

FOI contact details

Contact the FOI team if you require more information or have questions about making an FOI request:

You can find further information about the FOI Act on the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) website.

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