How agencies will respond to information requests
There is no specific format or style you need to use to make your request. You do not need to mention the Official Information Act (or OIA) to make a request.
- What happens if I ask the wrong agency?
- What if an agency doesn’t understand my request?
- What happens if I need to change my request?
- How will an agency make a decision on a request?
- When will information be withheld?
- How long will it take?
- When will charges apply?
- Will the agency’s response to my request be published on their website?
- What if I’m not satisfied?
If an agency does not have the information you asked for and they think that another agency or Minister may have the information, they will transfer your request. An agency may also transfer your request if they believe the information you have asked for is more closely connected with the functions of another agency or Minister.
They will do this promptly and within 10 working days, although it is possible to extend this timeframe in certain circumstances. An agency will let you know if they have transferred your request and who they have transferred it to.
If an agency doesn’t understand your request they will get in contact to clarify the information you want to receive.
If you would like to change your request, then you can get in contact with the agency and ask to make a change. If you do change your request an agency will let you know whether this will impact on the time it will take them to respond.
An agency will find all the information you have asked for and review it carefully. In order to make a decision on your request, they may need to consult other agencies or people who might be affected by release of the information.
Agencies will make the information you request available unless there is a reason why they are unable to do so (for example, the information isn’t held or can’t be found) or there is ‘good reason’ for withholding it.
Reasons for withholding are specified in the legislation (section 6 and section 9). They apply when release would harm a protected interest such as the maintenance of the law, personal privacy, confidentiality, or commercial interests.
Some reasons for withholding are subject to a ‘public interest test’ (section 9). As part of the decision on your request an agency will consider whether there are public interest considerations that mean they should release the information. Agencies will balance the public interest against the harms that they see from release of the information. If the public interest is greater than the harm, then the information will be released.
When an agency withholds information, they will tell you which part of the OIA applies. You have the right to complain to the Office of the Ombudsman about our decision to withhold information.
Agencies will acknowledge your request and are required by law to give you their decision on your request as soon as possible, and no later than 20 working days after your request is received.
If an agency needs more time to make a decision on your request, for example if you are requesting a lot of information, they will let you know and give you an idea of how long it will take. You can complain to the Office of the Ombudsman if you’re not happy with the decision to extend the time.
You can see data on the number of requests each agency receives each year and the timeliness of their responses: Official Information Act Statistics.
Agencies may charge you for the supply of information. These charges must be reasonable, and may reflect some of the cost of labour (including to retrieve and collect the information) and materials in meeting your request. The Ministry of Justice provides charging guidelines for OIAs.
The agency will consider publishing its response to your official information request where the information is believed to be of interest to the wider public and is suitable for publication more generally.
The agency will let you know if it intends to publish its response to your request (including any enclosed documents) on its website. Your personal information (for example your name and contact details) and any other information that may identify you will be removed from the published version.
You may wish to contact the agency directly in the first instance to see if they can resolve the issue.
You can make a complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman if you:
- have concerns regarding the decision they made on your request
- were unhappy about the way your request was treated or processed.
These concerns can relate to the withholding of information, extending the timeframe to respond to you, any charges for providing the information you have requested, delays in providing you with a decision or the information, or your request being transferred.
The Office of the Ombudsman can investigate and review a decision and may make a recommendation to the agency if it is considered appropriate.