Chapter 10: Processing requests

Transfer provisions

The official information legislation allows for requests to be transferred to another agency, where the transferring agency does not hold the requested information or where the request is more closely connected with the transferee agency.341  Any transfer is to be made promptly, with a maximum time limit of 10 working days from receipt of the request, and the agency is to inform the requester.342


Transferring information along with the request

The Ombudsmen submitted that consideration should be given to requiring agencies when transferring requests to transfer any relevant information to the transferee agency along with the request. The Ombudsmen report that one of the key concerns for requesters is that the transfer of a request can change or limit the scope of the information that is captured by their request. Steven Price also commented on this issue:343

It was clear in many instances, and seemed likely in many others, that the transferring agencies themselves possessed documents relevant to the request. Sometimes, these would be supplied and the balance of the request would be transferred. Occasionally, the agency would note that it was enclosing the documents it possessed in the letter of transfer. In other cases, however, it was not clear that these documents were even considered for release after a transfer.

We agree that the transfer of a request (where the information requested is more closely connected with the functions of another agency) should not negate the original agency’s obligation to release relevant information. Forwarding information to the transferee agency is one means of ensuring that the original agency meets its obligations.

However we are not persuaded that this should be mandated in every case. An agency may not have time to complete a search and reach a decision on release or withholding to identify the information to be transferred within the 10 working day time limit for the transfer of a request. It may be more flexible and efficient for the transferee and transferor agencies to consult and co-ordinate on release. Partial transfers of requests (discussed below) would be another means of handling this issue. We also note that an agency is required to provide a requester with assistance to direct a request to the appropriate body.344

Partial transfers

Where a request relates to information held by a number of agencies, there is no explicit mechanism to allow the transfer of part of the request to another agency. Guidance from the Ombudsmen implies that partial transfers may be made.345  However in the issues paper we wondered if uncertainty and lack of clarity about partial transfers may be increasing the amount of inter-agency consultation.346 While consultation is necessary to ensure consistent decision-making, there may be occasions where requests could be split up and handled relatively independently between the relevant agencies, with responses being co-ordinated as necessary.

Most submitters (30) agreed that there should be a provision in the legislation for partial transfers, with the Ombudsmen agreeing that it would be helpful if the legislation explicitly mandated them. Five submitters disagreed that any provision should be made for partial transfers, primarily because these submitters did not see any problem with partial transfers under the current provision.

We recommend that the legislation should clearly permit agencies to transfer part of a request that is readily severable, provided that the transfer meets the section 14 criteria and that notice of the transfer is provided to the requester. The severability of a request could be assessed by reference to any categories of information identified by a requester (for example where the request covers a number of topics or information types) or by reference to categories of information that fall within the scope of a request, as identified by the agency receiving the request.

Time limit

The 10 day time limit for transfers can be tight, especially where consultation between a number of agencies is required. One of the agencies we consulted advocated that time periods around transfers requires some flexibility, particularly for partial transfers, noting that time limits should not prevent appropriate decisions being reached. We do not recommend any change to the length of the 10 day time limit for transfers as the ability to extend the time limit (as clarified to allow a second extension where reasonable in the circumstances), should provide agencies with sufficient flexibility to allow for appropriate decisions to be taken.

One issue with the transfer provision the Ombudsmen raised with us is that the expression of the time limit for transfer (“promptly, and in any case not later than 10 working days after the day on which the request is received”) may have the implication that transfers outside the 10 working day time limit could be invalid. While the time limit is stated as a firm rule, we do not think it likely that the time limit could be interpreted in this way as this could result in an agency being precluded from transferring a request for information that it does not hold. We agree however that the redrafting of the legislation would be an opportunity to deal with this ambiguity.

We considered whether the time limit for transfer could be simplified so that a transfer is required “promptly,” however there is some value in a specified limit (10 working days) as a flag for agencies as to the acceptable outer limit of the time period.

A related problem is that transfer decisions are not expressly reviewable by the Ombudsmen under the OIA or LGOIMA; however in the following chapter we recommend that the Ombudsmen’s functions be extended to review complaints about transfers. We recommend framing the Ombudsmen’s review function in sufficiently broad terms to allow the Ombudsmen to hold agencies accountable for transfer decisions that impact on the scope of searchable information.

The Ombudsmen raised another issue in relation to an anomaly in the interaction between the extension provision347 and the transfer provision.348 The effect of the extension provision is to require notification of the extension of both the 20 working day limit for responding to requests, and the 10 working day time limit for transferring requests, within 20 working days. The Ombudsmen suggested that in the case of extension of the time limit for transfers, notification within a shorter timeframe such as 10 working days may be more appropriate. We agree, as the current timeframe is inconsistent with the requirement in the transfer provision that requests be transferred promptly. We recommend that this should be addressed in the redrafting of the legislation.

R62Section 14 of the OIA and section 12 of the LGOIMA should be amended to explicitly allow for partial transfers of requests.

R63The time limit for notification provided in section 15A(3) of the OIA and section 14(3) of the LGOIMA should be reduced to 10 working days, where a time limit has been extended to allow a request to be transferred.

OIA, s 14; LGOIMA, s 12. White, above n 291, at 265, notes that the administrative protocol is broadly that the request should be transferred to whoever was the primary author of a paper, or had leadership of the relevant issue or process.

The particular issue of transfers between agencies and Ministers is discussed in chapter 4.

Price, above n 289, at 36.

OIA, s 13; LGOIMA, s 11.

Office of the Ombudsmen “Transferring Requests” (March 2002) 8 OQR 1.

Issues Paper at [10.52].

OIA, s 15A; LGOIMA, s 14.

OIA, s 14; LGOIMA, s 12.