Posted on May 26, 2011 by Frances Tse

Guidance on discounts to processing charges under the GIPA Act

The Office of the Information Commissioner, which oversees the implementation of the GIPA Act, has published guidelines regarding when processing charges for access applications should be discounted.

Under the GIPA Act a person who makes an access application for information may be charged a processing charge of $30 per hour of processing time, which includes time for  consideration of the application, searching for records, consultation, decision-making and providing access to the applicant.

One of the circumstances where a discount is to be provided is if the agency to whom the application is made is satisfied that the information applied for is of special benefit to the public generally.

The GIPA Act provides that if the agency is satisfed that the information is of special benefit to the public generally, then the applicant is entitled to a 50% reduction in a processing charge. This means that the discount should be granted, even if the person making the application does not request it. Agencies therefore must assess each access application and decide whether the information is of special benefit to the public generally.

The guideline provides that information may be of special benefit to the public generally if, for example,

  • it is information that better informs the public about the government,
  • it is information that concerns a publicly significant issue,
  • it is information that informs public debate about an issue,
  • it is information that contributes to public’s understanding of an issue of public significance,
  • the benefit of the information flows to members of the public and not just to the applicant.

The range of information which could fall within the above matters is potentially very broad.

Agencies should therefore examine the nature and context of the information applied for and who the information will benefit in each case. In doing so, agencies should keep in mind that a decision not to grant a discount  in processing charge can be the subject of review under the GIPA Act.