Under the Privacy Act individuals can request access to personal information about them that is held by an agency. Once the request is made, the agency has 20 working days to decide if it will release the information or not.

If the agency does not reply within this time, there is automatically considered to have been a refusal to release the information.

If the agency agrees to release the information, it depends on who the agency is in determining if an individual may be charged for access to their personal information.

A public sector agency, such as a government department, may not normally charge an individual in relation to a request for access to their own personal information.

If the agency is not a public sector agency, then it can require payment for providing the information that has been requested, correction of information they hold, or the attachment of a statement of correction where a change has been sought, but not made.

The amount that may be charged must be reasonable, and can take into account the work required to comply with the request, materials involved, and any other costs involved if the individual requested access to the information under urgency.

In one case a business held a file about a long term client. The client requested a copy of the entire file. The business told the client it would charge him $19,000 for a copy of the file.

The client complained to the Privacy Commissioner who, unsurprisingly, held that the charge was unreasonable. The Commissioner explained to the business that the appropriate charge would have been around $7.50, the cost of a USB stick on which to transfer the information.

It is important that agencies do not try to prevent access to individuals by imposing expensive charges. If an agency does so, it may result in a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner and, potentially, an expensive case in the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

If an agency has attempted to charge an unreasonable amount of money to access your own personal information, it is wise to speak with a professional experienced in the area.

Leading law firms committed to helping clients cost-effectively will have a range of fixed-priced Initial Consultations to suit most people’s needs in quickly learning what their options are.  At Rainey Collins we have an experienced team who can answer your questions and put you on the right track.