Freedom of Information
The Freedom of Information Act 1982 gives the community a legal right to apply for access to Merri-bek City Council documents. Council is subject to this Act and responds to requests directly related to its operations.
Principles of the Freedom of Information Act
The public has a legal right of access to information.
Local governments are required to publish information concerning the documents they hold. Some information may be exempt under the Act and in certain circumstances this information is not able to be released.
A person has a right to seek access to:
- documents relating to their own personal affairs regardless of the age of the documents, and
- information that is incorporated in a record in the possession of Council on or after 1 January 1989.
A person may request:
- amendment of records relating to their own personal affairs, where they believe the information is inaccurate, incomplete, out of date or misleading.
People may seek independent review from the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner where access to a document has been denied in part or full, or Council has determined to not amend records relating to the personal affairs of the Freedom of Information applicant.
Additionally, people may make a complaint to Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner if the requested document either does not exist or, after a thorough and diligent search, cannot be located.
View Merri-bek City Council's Freedom of Information Part II Statement (DOC 130Kb).
Fees and charges
The current Freedom of Information application fee is $29.60 (indexed yearly on 1 July).
The FOI Officer may waive the application fee if the request relates to documents regarding the personal affairs of the applicant and the FOI Officer is satisfied that payment of the application fee would cause the applicant financial hardship.
Council may levy additional charges for providing documents.
Section 17 of the Freedom of Information (Access Charges) Regulations 2014 sets out these charges. The current charges include:
- search time at the rate of $22.25 per hour or part thereof for each work area undertaking a search for documents (indexed yearly on 1 July)
- copying charges at the rate of 20 cents per black and white A4 page, and $1.05 per colour A4 page
- supervision regarding inspection of the documents at the rate of $5.55 per quarter hour or part thereof.
Applicants can pay additional Freedom of Information fees and charges online by Visa or MasterCard, post a cheque to Council, or pay in person at a Council Customer Service Centre.
Some of these charges may also be waived or not charged at the discretion of the FOI Officer in particular circumstances.
Requesting information under Freedom of Information
To make a valid request, the following requirements set out in section 17 of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 must be satisfied:
- Requests to access documents must be made in writing.
- Requests must be accompanied by:
- Payment of the statutory application fee of $29.60 (as of 1 July 2019 and indexed yearly).
- Proof of hardship, such as a copy of a current Centrelink benefit card, if the request is for documents relating to the personal affairs of the applicant and payment of the application fee would cause the applicant financial hardship.
- Requests must be sufficiently clear for Council to be able to identify the documents being sought. This will be determined by the FOI Officer with the assistance of relevant Council employees.
How to apply
Requests to access documents under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 must be in writing and may be made using the Freedom of Information Application form (DOC 60Kb).
Send the completed form or letter of request to Council, attention Freedom of Information Officer:
- email Freedom of Information Officer
- post to Merri-bek City Council, Locked Bag 10, Merri-bek 3058, or
- submit in person to at a Council Customer Service Centre.
Council will email or post you an invoice which includes a reference number, which you can use to pay the Freedom of Information application fee online by Visa or MasterCard.
Alternatively, you can include a cheque for the application fee when you post your application or pay in person at a Council Customer Service Centre.
What happens after you apply?
Upon receiving a valid request, we will send you a letter acknowledging that your request has been received and advising you of the date that your request is due to be processed by.
If your request is not valid (that is, it doesn’t meet the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act 1982), you will receive a letter acknowledging your request describing what needs to be changed before Council can process your request. You will be given a reasonable opportunity to update your request, typically 28 days. If you do not provide the information we need to process your request within 28 days, your request will be closed unactioned and Council will notify you.
Timeframe for decision
For most requests Council must notify an applicant about the decision regarding access within 30 days of receiving a valid request.
There are some exceptions to the 30 day timeframe including:
- An additional 15 days may be required should the FOI Officer consider that consultation with third parties is required. If this is the case you will be notified in writing.
- In some cases the anticipated access charges may exceed $50. Should this occur, the FOI Officer is required by section 22(3) of the Act to notify the applicant and enquire as to whether the applicant wishes to proceed with the request. If the applicant advises they wish to proceed, the following processes may apply:
- if the anticipated access charges are between $50 and $100, Council will seek a deposit of $25
- if the anticipated access charges are over $100, Council will seek a deposit of 50 per cent of the anticipated access charges
- discuss with the applicant practicable alternatives for altering the request, or reducing the access charges, such as requesting images in black and white rather than colour, or revising the date range for which documents are being sought.
Regardless of the timeframe allowed by the legislation (including any exceptions or extensions), we will always try to make a decision about a request as quickly as possible.
If Council requires an applicant to pay a deposit as outlined above, the timeframe for processing the request is reset upon receipt of the deposit payment.
What your decision letter will contain
When a decision regarding access to documents is made, it includes:
- the terms of your request (what the request was for)
- the areas of Council that searched for the requested documents
- a schedule of the documents found to be relevant to your request
- a schedule of the decision regarding access to each of the documents (the documents released in full or part, or denied in full)
- details of any exemptions claimed, and an explanation of why they have been applied particular to the applicant's request
- details regarding the disposal of documents in accordance with the The Public Records Act 1973, should any of the requested documents have been destroyed in line with that Act
- details of any additional access charges to be paid before the released documents can be provided
- applicable review or complaint rights.
Freedom of Information applicants can pay additional Freedom of Information charges online, as outlined in the decision letter, by Visa or MasterCard, post a cheque to Council or pay in person at a Council Customer Service Centre.
In Victoria, the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner provides oversight and guidance regarding Freedom of Information requests. The Information Commissioner, promotes the operation of the Act by reviewing the decisions of Freedom of Information agencies, handling complaints about agencies, monitoring compliance with the Act and providing advice, education and guidance to the public and agencies in relation to Freedom of Information.