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Freedom of information for Centrelink clients

An overview of how people can access their personal records held by Centrelink.

All Centrelink clients have the right to view or get copies of their personal information that Centrelink keeps on file. This right is outlined by the Freedom of Information Act 1982 which gives any member of the public a general right of access to information held by Australian Government agencies.

This information includes claim forms, records of contact and payment records. Centrelink may also keep a record of information received from third parties.

Clients can ask to see their file at any time, especially if they are lodging an appeal against a Centrelink decision. Clients can also access most of their own information online.

Centrelink will not provide access to another person’s personal records.

How to make a request

A request for access to documents, including personal records, should be made in writing. Information about how to do this is listed on the Services Australia website (which houses the Centrelink site). Centrelink makes it clear that most information is available without having to make a formal FOI request.

See Services Australia—Freedom of Information(opens in a new window).

Clients can also make a written request by letter, fax or by making a statement over the counter at a Centrelink office.

A request for access to documents must be answered within 30 days from the day following the receipt of the request, although this period may be extended by Centrelink. Centrelink may ask for an extension of time of up to 30 days to comply with a request.

Who can help

Clients can receive assistance from a Welfare Rights Centre or a Centrelink FOI Officer.

While awaiting copy of file

Clients may be asked to make a full statement about their circumstances while they are waiting for a copy of their file from a freedom of information (FOI) request.

Centrelink may even give the impression that the client will not be granted access to their file unless they comply with a request for a statement. This may be because Centrelink would like a statement before client finds out how much detail is contained in their file.

Centrelink has to write to the person who has made a request under the FOI laws. This must be done as soon as possible, and no later than 14 days after they get the request.

Clients are entitled to refuse to make a statement at this time, and insist on receiving their file within the 30 day period.

See s. 15(5)—Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth)(opens in a new window).

More information

Legislation

Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth)

  • Part 3—Access to documents
  • s. 15(5)—requests for access and time limits
  • Part 5—Amendment and annotation of personal records

See Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth)(opens in a new window).

References

The Law Handbook

The Fitzroy Legal Service’s Law Handbook had more detailed information about the Freedom of Information Act, including rights of access, how to apply and the associated fees.

See Freedom of information law(opens in a new window).

Services Australia (Centrelink)

See Services Australia—Freedom of Information(opens in a new window).

Freedom of information is protected under Commonwealth law by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. The following information may help someone who wants access to their information held by Centrelink:

See also OAIC—Centrelink requests for information(opens in a new window).

Updated