Section 10 - Extending the time limit for responding

Summary

The Act places a duty on public bodies to respond to requests without delay and imposes a maximum response time limit of 30 days.  The Act, however, does allow additional time to be taken in specified circumstances in order to perform duties or engage in necessary consultations.

Although these duties and the additional time allowed to perform them are addressed in other sections of the Manual, this section discusses those limited circumstances in which public bodies may extend the time limit for responding.  The second subsection provides a description of the material which must be provided to the applicant if the public body has extended the time for responding to the request.

Section Reference

Section 10 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act

(1) The head of a public body may extend the time for responding to a request for up to 30 days if one or more of the following apply: 

(a) the applicant does not give enough detail to enable the public body to identify a requested record; 

(b) a large number of records is requested or must be searched and meeting the time limit would unreasonably interfere with the operations of the public body;   

(c) more time is needed to consult with a third party or other public body before the head can decide whether or not to give the applicant access to a requested record.

(2) In addition to the authority under subsection (1), with the permission of the commissioner, the head of a public body may extend the time for responding to a request as follows:

(a) if one or more of the circumstances described in subsection (1) (a) to (c) apply, for a period of longer than the 30 days permitted under that subsection;

(b) if the commissioner otherwise considers that it is fair and reasonable to do so, as the commissioner considers appropriate.

(3) If the time limit is extended under this section, the head of the public body must tell the applicant   

(a) the reason,   

(b) when a response can be expected, and,   

(c) that the applicant may complain about the extension under section 42(2)(b) or, 60(1)(a).

Policy

  1. Public bodies must respond to an applicant within 30 days of receiving a request, unless the request is transferred to another public body or the public body extends the time limit.
  2. A public body may extend the 30-day time limit for responding to requests under four circumstances:

    1. the applicant does not give enough detail for the public body to find the requested record;

    2. responding within 30 days would interfere with the public body's operations due to the fact that a large number of records have been requested or must be searched;

    3. the public body requires more time to consult with another public body or a third party; or

    4. a third party asks the Commissioner for a review of the head's decision on a request.

  3. A public body may not take an extension for consultations within its own public body.

  4. The Act does not regard other public bodies as third parties for the purposes of notifications under sections 23 and section 24.  Other public bodies are, therefore, not bound by the time limits that apply to third parties under those sections.  Consultations with other public bodies are nevertheless bound by the 30 day extension timeframe.

  5. The public body may ask the Commissioner for permission to extend the time limit if it will be necessary to extend the time limit beyond 60 days (original 30 days + 30 day extension).

  6. If an applicant complains to the Commissioner about an extension, the public body continues processing the request while the Commissioner conducts a review.

Procedure

  1. Factors to consider in extending the time limit.

    The head of the public body considers all of the potential factors that contribute to the need for a time extension before deciding to invoke one, such as:

  • the amount and type of detail required from the applicant to clarify the request;

  • the breadth and complexity of the request, the number of records requested, and the number of files which must be searched to find the requested records;

  • the location of the files and potential difficulties in retrieving the records;

  • the number and complexity of consultations required with external organizations; e.g., with other public bodies, other governments or other third parties;

  • the quantity and type of records requiring review by another public body; lengthy, complex records will require considerably more time to review than short, simple ones; and,

  • the amount of time the Commissioner may need when, under subsection 52(2), a third party requests a review of the head's decision on a request (the Commissioner has up to 90 days to complete a review under the Act). 

  1. Document reasons for extension

    Public bodies should document the reasons for an extension, since the Commissioner, if asked under subsection 10(1) for permission to extend the time limit more than 30 days, will require the public body to provide a rationale of the need to extend the time limit.  If the Commissioner refuses permission to the public body to extend the time limit, the public body may take only the maximum of 60 days to process the request. 

    Similarly, if the Commissioner decides to investigate a complaint about an extension under paragraph 42(2)(b), he or she will ask for supporting documentation.   After investigating such a complaint, the Commissioner may either confirm or reduce the extension under the provisions of paragraph 58(3)(b).

  2. Notification to Applicant 

    The public body informs the applicant, by letter, that an extension is required as soon as it becomes apparent that the request cannot be processed within the initial 30-day time period.  The letter must contain the reason for the time extension, when the applicant can expect a response, and the applicant’s right to complain about the extension under section 42 or 60.

  • Letter 10-1:  Notice Regarding Extension of Time Limit

Interpretation

Interpretation Note 1:

Time for responding to a request

Public bodies make every effort to respond as quickly as possible to requests for information held by government.  Section 7 establishes a maximum time limit of 30 days for responding to a formal request and, in most cases, public bodies meet this deadline.

Applicants have the right to request whatever volume of records is necessary to satisfy their information needs.  In some instances, however, because of the volume of records requested, the need for external consultations or other limited circumstances, a public body may require more than 30 days to satisfy the applicant's needs.

If the request is incomplete and further information is required from the applicant, public bodies seek this information immediately.  Public bodies do not suspend the official date of receipt of a request, pending receipt of clarification.

However, in those cases where there is insufficient detail in the request to identify the record, a public body may, under paragraph 10(1)(a) of the Act, extend the time limit for responding.

Every effort is made to extend the time limit only once. The head of a public body may, on his or her own authority and within the original 30-day time limit, extend the 30-day time limit for responding up to a maximum of 30 days (for total response time of 60 days).  See Calculation of Time.

Interpretation Note 2:

Commissioner's permission

If the head believes that responding to the request will require more than 60 days in total (i.e., more than the first 30 days, plus the 30-day extension which the head may take on his/her own authority), the head asks the Commissioner for permission to extend the time limit. Preferably, this should be done within the original 30-day time limit.

In requesting permission from the Commissioner to further extend a request, the head of the public body must provide a complete and detailed explanation of the reasons why the extension is being requested and any circumstances that mitigate in favour of the requested additional extension.

Example

  • If the head believes that processing the request will take 90 days, he or she contacts the Commissioner within the original 30-day time limit to ask for approval of a 60-day extension. Under exceptional circumstances, the Commissioner may approve a second extension.

Public bodies continue processing the request while awaiting the Commissioner's response to an extension request.

Interpretation Note 3:

Notification requirements

When a public body informs the applicant of the extension, it provides the time period and gives the reasons for which the extension is necessary. The notification letter also includes the date when the applicant can expect to receive the response to the request. The applicant should be able to rely on receiving the records on the date on which the public body says the request will be answered.

The applicant is also notified of the right to complain to the Commissioner about the head's decision to extend the time limit.  (See Letter 10-1:  Notice Regarding Extension of Time Limit.)

Interpretation Note 4:

Consult with a third party

When a public body gives notice to a third party under section 23 (Notifying the third party), the deadline for a final response to the applicant switches to 30 days from the date of the notification (as opposed to 30 days from the date of receipt).  An extension under section 10 is based on the original time limit of 30 days from the receipt of the request as outlined in section 7, not on the section 24 time limit of 30 days from date of notice.  If more time than a total of 60 days from the date of receipt of the request is needed to complete third party consultations, the public body must ask the Commissioner for permission for the longer extension.  The public body notifies the third party as soon as possible after receiving a request, to minimize the delay in responding.

A third party has 20 of those 30 days to provide comments on the request in a written response to the public body's notice.  The public body has the 10 remaining days of the 30 to decide whether or not to disclose the requested information.

If a public body decides to release the information that was the subject of the section 23 notice, subsection 24(3) allows the third party an additional 20 days to ask the Commissioner to review the public body's decision. If the third party does not request a review within the 20-day time period, the applicant is given access to the record or part of a record that was the subject of the third party representations as soon as this period has elapsed.

If the Commissioner conducts a review, the public body’s response to the applicant with respect to the third party information under review is delayed until the Commissioner’s review is complete.  If the review affects only some of the requested records, the public body releases the remainder of the records to the applicant. The commissioner has 90 days to settle the matter or conduct a review.

Public bodies may consult with third parties even where there is no duty to give formal notice.  The extended time limits under sections 23 and 24 do not apply to third party consultations that are not required under section 23.  Consultations with other public bodies or third parties are conducted as expeditiously as possible, to ensure the response to the applicant is not unduly delayed.

Interpretation Note 5:

 Third party asks for a review under section 52(2) or 62(2).

"Third party"

For more information about reviews, see (subsection 52 (Right to ask for a review [by the Commissioner]) or subsection 62(2) (Right to ask for a review [by an adjudicator]).

If the head has decided to give access to the record or part of the record, and the third party does request a review within the 20-day time period, then the time limit for responding to the request is extended under paragraph 10(1)(d).  The applicant is not given access to any record or part of a record that is the subject of the review until the Commissioner’s review is completed. If the review affects only some of the requested records, the public body releases the remainder of the records to the applicant. The outcome of the review determines whether or not access is given to any records that are the subject of review.  Under subsection 56(6) the Commissioner has 90 days to settle the matter or conduct a review.

Sectional Index of Commissioner's Orders

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APPENDICES

LETTERS:
10-1:  Notice Regarding Extension of Time Limit

Last updated: July 13, 2007