Average Hold Data for 2016

Ben Fairless made this Freedom of Information request to Department of Human Services

The request was refused by Department of Human Services.

From: Ben Fairless

Delivered

Dear Department of Human Services,

This is a request for the average time taken for a call into a Departmental call centre to be answered or abandoned for the 2016 year for all of the Department's contact centre queues (including "Shared Services" such as ICT, Finance, and Esclation teams within the Department).

I would like the data averaged per month for the 2016 year, seperated by each group - If you use a Contact Centre Solution such as Cisco Call Centre, this data should be easily accessible from within that application and shouldn't take much time to obtain.

I also make an application that the costs associated with processing the request be waived on public interest grounds. The time it takes for customers to access Centrelink and Medicare services shows how well staffed the department is to respond to queries, and therefore relates to how the department is serving the needs of the community.

Yours faithfully,

Ben Fairless

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services

The FOI team will be closed from 23 December 2016 until 2 January 2017
(inclusive). Applications lodged during that period will be considered
when we re-open on 3 January 2017.

 

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services


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Attachment LEX 24847 Registration Invalid letter.pdf
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Dear Mr Fairless

 

Please find attached correspondence in relation to your Freedom of
Information request (LEX 24847).

 

Regards

 

FOI Legal Team

FOI and Litigation Branch | Legal Services Division

Department of Human Services

* [1][email address]

 

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From: Ben Fairless

Delivered

Dear Department of Human Services,

Please pass this on a senior officer who who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Department of Human Services's handling of my FOI request 'Average Hold Data for 2016'. The decision maker has considered my request as invalid as they believe I am not asking for a "document" under the FOI Act.

The FOI Act states that a "document " includes (relevantly):
(a) any of, or any part of any of, the following things:
...
(iv) any article or material from which sounds, images or writings are capable of being reproduced with or without the aid of any other article or device;
(v) any article on which information has been stored or recorded, either mechanically or electronically;
(vi) any other record of information; or

(b) any copy, reproduction or duplicate of such a thing; or

(c) any part of such a copy, reproduction or duplicate;

In my original request, I use the word "data". Data is defined by Google as: "the quantities, characters, or symbols on which operations are performed by a computer, which may be stored and transmitted in the form of electrical signals and recorded on magnetic, optical, or mechanical recording media."

"Data" meets the definition of a document under the Freedom of Information Act as, using the above definition, it is an "article on which information has been stored or recorded, either mechanically or electronically". Therefore, my request should be considered valid from the date of receipt.

Most large contact centres use products that store and record the hold times for various queues or groups (definitions vary based on software product). This data would be stored in a SQL table, which makes it a document under the FOI Act. It may have also been generated as a report to those responsible for the provision of the Contact Centre.

I re-state my request is for:
" This is a request for the average time taken for a call into a Departmental call centre to be answered or abandoned for the 2016 year for all of the Department's contact centre queues (including "Shared Services" such as ICT, Finance, and Esclation teams within the Department).

I would like the data averaged per month for the 2016 year, seperated by each group - If you use a Contact Centre Solution such as Cisco Call Centre, this data should be easily accessible from within that application and shouldn't take much time to obtain.

I also make an application that the costs associated with processing the request be waived on public interest grounds. The time it takes for customers to access Centrelink and Medicare services shows how well staffed the department is to respond to queries, and therefore relates to how the department is serving the needs of the community."

Please process my request in line with your statutory obligations, and provide a decision by 29 January 2017.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.righttoknow.org.au/request/a...

Yours faithfully,

Ben Fairless

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Locutus Sum left an annotation ()

Hello Ben. I think that you are correct in your analysis of what is meant by a document but I think that you have a much better case if you rely on section 17 of the Act. For the benefit of users who are not Ben, this is the section:
(1) Where:
(a) a request (including a request in relation to which a practical refusal reason exists) is made in accordance with the requirements of subsection 15(2) to an agency;
(b) it appears from the request that the desire of the applicant is for information that is not available in discrete form in written documents of the agency; and
(ba) it does not appear from the request that the applicant wishes to be provided with a computer tape or computer disk on which the information is recorded; and
(c) the agency could produce a written document containing the information in discrete form by:
(i) the use of a computer or other equipment that is ordinarily available to the agency for retrieving or collating stored information; or
(ii) the making of a transcript from a sound recording held in the agency;
the agency shall deal with the request as if it were a request for access to a written document so produced and containing that information and, for that purpose, this Act applies as if the agency had such a document in its possession.

I searched with Google for
site:oaic.gov.au "section 17" OR "s 17"
and found cases where the Freedom of Information Commissioner has considered the application of s 17.

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Ben Fairless left an annotation ()

Thanks Locutus, you're amazing again! I was looking for section 17 but wasn't sure what search words to use

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services


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Dear Mr Fairless

 

We have considered your email of 4 January 2017.

 

Be advised that your request for internal review cannot be actioned. No
reviewable decision under the FOI Act has been made in relation to your
request. However, in light of the explanatory information included in your
email, we have decided to treat your request as valid from the date of
submission.

 

If you have any further questions in relation to this matter, please
contact us.

 

Regards

 

FOI Legal Team

FOI and Litigation Branch | Legal Services Division

Department of Human Services

* [1][email address]

 

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email you are notified that any use of dissemination of this communication
is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error
please notify the sender immediately and permanently delete this email.

 

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services


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Dear Mr Fairless

 

Please find attached correspondence in relation to your Freedom of
Information request (LEX 24847).

 

Regards

 

FOI Legal Team

FOI and Litigation Branch | Legal Services Division

Department of Human Services

* [1][email address]

 

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This email is intended for the use of the addressee and may contain
information that is confidential, commercially valuable or subject to
Legal Professional Privilege. Privilege is not waived by the mistaken
delivery of this email. If you are not the intended recipient of this
email you are notified that any use of dissemination of this communication
is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error
please notify the sender immediately and permanently delete this email.

 

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Locutus Sum left an annotation ()

Let us start with the important part of the story and put the explanation later. The FOI Legal Team was wrong! The decision of 4 January 2017 (https://www.righttoknow.org.au/request/a... ) was a reviewable decision. The conclusive evidence that the FOI Legal Team was wrong and has misread the law is contained in footnote 2 to paragraph 7 of Mills and Department of Immigration and Border Protection [2014] AICmr 54 (10 June 2014) (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/A... ).

Now you can read the prolix version.

The FOI Legal Team decided that the original request from Mr Fairless not a valid request under the FOI Act. That decision was, in my opinion, wrong (https://www.righttoknow.org.au/request/a... ) but the question of whether it was wrong must be put to the left for a moment. Mr Fairless wants to contest the claim that his original request was invalid but the department twists on its own tail. The department wants to say that the only decisions that can be reviewed are decisions in respect of valid FOI requests and because the original request was, in their opinion, invalid, there cannot be a reviewable decision.

Imagine that the opinion of the Department was correct. It would be a disaster. A department that did not understand the law might wrongly say that all kinds of requests were invalid and because the requests were, in the wrong opinion of the department, invalid, then an applicant could have no chance of review. It is fortunate that even a very simple reading of the Act should tell a person that this is an incorrect understanding of the law. It is even more fortunate that there have now been at least two cases before the Freedom of Information Commissioner where the incorrect opinion has been challenged.

The first relevant case was very early after the 2010 changes to the FOI Act. The case is Parnell and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport [2011] AICmr 3 (11 April 2011) (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/A... ). The second case is Mills that I said in the first paragraph. But also let us look briefly at the statutory law.

Section 2B of the Acts Interpretation Act explains that in any Act (so, including the FOI Act) the word "document" means "any record of information". Section 4 of the Freedom of Information Act enlarges this description by including even more things in the explanation. Section 17 of the FOI Act then explains that some information that is stored in a computer must be treated by an agency as a document even when the information is not all collected together in one record. Section 15 of the FOI Act explains what is required for a valid request. Section 54 explains that an applicant can ask for an internal review of an access refusal decision, and s 53 explains what is meant by "access refusal decision". The words in s 53 are "An access refusal decision is any of the following decisions: (a) a decision refusing to give access to a document in accordance with a request ..."

The argument of the agency (and also the argument of the agencies in the cases that I said) is that a person cannot get to s 54 of the Act because there was no access refusal decision. The mistake that the agency has made in the latest email is to think that for an access refusal decision to exist, they had to say "we refuse to give you access to the document". They did not have to say exactly that. The Freedom of Information Commissioner has explained in the different decisions that when an agency says "your request is invalid, we will not process it", then they are (as it says in s 53, "refusing to give access to a document in accordance with a request". As a result, a decision by an agency that an application is invalid must, in most circumstances, be understood to be an access refusal decision that is reviewable.

The agency made a double twist of its tail in the latest email because they say that the request from Mr Fairless was invalid, that there was no access refusal decision because the request was never valid and so there can be no internal review, but " in light of the explanatory information included in your email, we have decided to treat your request as valid from the date of submission." Mr Fairless will possibly now get what he wants, but if I stood in the same shoes, I would write to the agency to correct all their errors. It is the only way that an applicant can improve the knowledge of an agency.

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From: Ben Fairless

Delivered

Dear FOI.LEGAL.TEAM,

I'm sorry, but my request should be treated as valid from the date it was lodged, being 29 December 2016.

I note the public comments of a community member on the Right to Know website (https://www.righttoknow.org.au/request/a.... I encourage you to read this annotation as it appears the OAIC has already decided that deciding a request is not a valid request is a "reviewable decision" (Refer to Mills and Department of Immigration and Border Protection [2014] AICmr 54 and Parnell and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport [2011] AICmr 3).

My request was valid on the date it was submitted and has not been altered since that date. If the department doesn't have the requisite knowledge to apply the FOI Act correctly, that is not my problem. I also note s.17 of the Freedom of Information Act - My request would have been valid under s.17, as it related to information stored on a computer system.

Please confirm that the due date for this request is the 29th of January, 2016.

Yours sincerely,

Ben Fairless

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services


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Dear Mr Fairless

 

Thank you for your email.

 

We agree to process your request from the original date of submission (29
December 2016).

 

You can expect a decision from us by 30 January 2016.

 

Regards

 

FOI Legal Team

FOI and Litigation Branch | Legal Services Division

Department of Human Services

* [1][email address]

 

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email you are notified that any use of dissemination of this communication
is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error
please notify the sender immediately and permanently delete this email.

 

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services


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Dear Mr Fairless

 

Please find attached correspondence in relation to your Freedom of
Information request (LEX 24847).

 

Regards

 

FOI Legal Team

FOI and Litigation Branch | Legal Services Division

Department of Human Services

* [1][email address]

 

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This email is intended for the use of the addressee and may contain
information that is confidential, commercially valuable or subject to
Legal Professional Privilege. Privilege is not waived by the mistaken
delivery of this email. If you are not the intended recipient of this
email you are notified that any use of dissemination of this communication
is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error
please notify the sender immediately and permanently delete this email.

 

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From: Ben Fairless

Delivered

Dear FOI.LEGAL.TEAM,

I appreciate the opportunity to be consulted, however I have a few questions before I consider a reduction in scope:

1. You state it will require the search of "millions of records" over "multiple datasets". Could you provide more information on what the records are and their datasets? Do the "millions of records" include individual customer calls or aggregate data? What datasets is the department required to access?

2. Does the Department have a reporting suite (such as Avaya CMS Supervsior, or Cisco Call Centre Reporting) where a majority of this reporting could be run in order to save time?

3. Does the data I am seeking exist in other aggregate forms already precompiled (for example, daily/weekly/monthly/ to contact centre managers)?

4. If I was to retain the scope, but limit the dates or the aggregate period (for example, by only requesting specific months, or requesting the data in quarterly averages) what date range/aggregate period would the department consider acceptable to avoid a "practical refusal reason" under the FOI Act? For example, could the department easily provide the data for the whole of 2016 (not averaged over months) without a practical refusal reason applying?

I'm happy to discuss this request further over the phone if you think that might help. Can you please speak with Clara in your department who should have my offline contact details, or provide me with a telephone number I can call to discuss the request in further detail?

Yours sincerely,

Ben Fairless

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services

The Department of Human Services acknowledges receipt of your
correspondence.

 

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services


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Attachment LEX 24847 Consultation Assistive letter.pdf
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Dear Mr Fairless

 

Please find attached correspondence in relation to your Freedom of
Information request (LEX 24847).

 

In order to provide you with a response, we liaised with the relevant
business area of the department. We understand that you were asked to
revise the scope of your request no later than 3 February 2017. However,
given the time taken to provide you with the attached information, we feel
it is appropriate to allow you a further week to consider your revision.

 

Please consider our response and, if you would still like to proceed with
your request, submit a revised scope by 13 February 2017.

 

Regards

 

FOI Legal Team

FOI and Litigation Branch | Legal Services Division

Department of Human Services

* [1][email address]

 

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From: Ben Fairless

Delivered

Dear FOI.LEGAL.TEAM,

Thank you so much for answering my questions.

At question 3, you state that:
"...information is available at a higher level of aggregation which is used for the department’s reporting and analysis."

In addition, you state at question 4 that:
"the department can provide the aggregation of queues by month."

Can you advise if I was to revise my request to the below, would a practical refusal reason still exist? Please note that this is not me revising my request, rather trying to figure out if I've got the right balance.

The proposed request is:
"A copy of the aggregate data referred to in the Department's letter of Feb 7 2017 in relation to call centre queues each month, for all months in 2016."

Yours sincerely,

Ben Fairless

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services

The Department of Human Services acknowledges receipt of your
correspondence.

 

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services

Dear Mr Fairless

I refer to your email of 7 February 2017.

I confirm that the proposed revision could be processed by the department.

Regards

FOI Legal Team
FOI and Litigation Branch | Legal Services Division
Department of Human Services
[email address]

This email and any attachments may contain information subject to legal professional privilege or information that is otherwise sensitive or confidential. If you are not the intended recipient of this email, you are prohibited from using or disseminating this communication. If you have received this communication in error please notify the sender immediately and permanently delete this email.

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From: Ben Fairless

Delivered

Dear FOI.LEGAL.TEAM,

Fantastic! Please proceed.

Yours sincerely,

Ben Fairless

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services


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Attachment LEX 24847 Communication Acknowledgement of revised scope.pdf
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Dear Mr Fairless

 

Please find attached correspondence in relation to your Freedom of
Information request (LEX 24847).

 

Regards

 

FOI Legal Team

FOI and Litigation Branch | Legal Services Division

Department of Human Services

* [1][email address]

 

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services


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Attachment LEX 24847 Charges notice.pdf
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Dear Mr Fairless

 

Please find attached correspondence in relation to your Freedom of
Information request (LEX 24847).

 

Regards

 

FOI Legal Team

FOI and Litigation Branch | Legal Services Division

Department of Human Services

* [1][email address]

 

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confidential. If you are not the intended recipient of this email, you are
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From: Ben Fairless

Delivered

Dear FOI.LEGAL.TEAM,

I write to contend that the charge of $345 should not be imposed on public interest grounds.

The hold times over the course of several months have been the subject of over 20,000 news reports (according to Google - https://www.google.com.au/search?client=..., so there is significant public interest in understanding the time individuals are spending on hold to DHS.

I would also note that the Department deals with almost all of the Australian population at some point in their lives, and hold times to areas within the department are therefore of substantial interest to all Australians.

I also contend that the charge for collecting and processing the data is excessive. I note the OAIC Guidelines which state (in part):

4.23: An underlying assumption in calculating search and retrieval time is that the agency or minister maintains a high quality record system. Search and retrieval time is to be calculated on the basis that a document will be found in the place indicated in the agency’s or minister’s filing system (reg 2(2)(a)) or, if no such indication is given, in the place that reasonably should have been indicated in the filing system (reg 2(2)(b)). The ‘filing system’ of an agency or minister should be taken as including central registries as well as other authorised systems used to record the location of documents.

I contend that 25 hours to search for and collate this information is excessive. You have not detailed how this figure was arrived at, and it appears to be a very round figure.

Based on the above information, I contend that the charge should be waived in it's entirety.

Yours sincerely,

Ben Fairless

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services


Attachment Acknowledgement Letter Internal Review.pdf
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Dear Mr Fairless,

 

Please see attached correspondence in relation to your Freedom of
Information request.

 

Regards

 

 

FOI Legal Team

FOI and Litigation Branch | Legal Services Division
Department of Human Services

Doris Blackburn Building 18 Canberra Avenue, Forrest

 

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services


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Attachment LEX 24847 Charges Reconsideration.pdf
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Dear Mr Fairless

 

Please find attached correspondence in relation to your Freedom of
Information request (LEX 24847).

 

Regards

 

FOI Legal Team

FOI and Litigation Branch | Legal Services Division

Department of Human Services

* [1][email address]

 

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Justin Warren left an annotation ()

I don't think the Department is correct here.

23 hours seems excessive to write a SQL script to dump aggregated records from a database, let alone to create a standard report on call data. Per the Guidelines at 4.23 https://www.oaic.gov.au/freedom-of-infor... "An underlying assumption in calculating search and retrieval time is that the agency or minister maintains a high quality record system."

At 4.24, the Guidelines also state "In summary, applicants cannot be disadvantaged by poor or inefficient record keeping by agencies or ministers." I would argue that the Department appears to be very inefficient in its ability to generate standard reporting data here.

Turning to the reduction of charges on public interest grounds, in Cashman and Partners v Secretary Department of Human Services and Health [1995] FCA 1730 http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/F... [at 27] the question of public interest is concerned with "benefits flowing from the fact that information previously withheld by the agency is now accessible to the community."

There is a question here as to whether the type of information being requested has been previously withheld. I would assert that it has been.

In its annual report, as cited in the response, the Department publishes average annual wait times, not monthly wait times. The more granular view of wait times through the year would provide information that has not been previously available to the public.

This more granular data has been published in responses to Senate Estimates questions taken on notice in previous years, but not recently. This implies that the ability to publish this data has been developed previously (in order to answer the Senator's question) which further calls into question the search and retrieval times.

I also checked the Estimates transcript noted here, and the detail asked for here was not made available during questioning.

Questions put to the Department of Social Services during Estimates indicated that they had not received certain information from DHS about the calls (like maximum wait times), but would be seeking it, so there is another angle for seeking the detail you're after.

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