I recently received a bill from a local authority relating to work carried out on my property before I bought it. I was not responsible for the bill and I had challenged it successfully on three previous occasions. But it kept coming back.
Four years on after my first contact with the local authority over the bill, I received a new notice. It was clear that I needed information relating to my previous contact with the local authority over the bill, if I wanted to end this saga once and for all. The local authority would hold the information relating to my earlier contact and this would amount to personal information about me.
One of the most common complaints made to the Privacy Commissioner’s office is in relation to principle 6. It is the principle in the Privacy Act that gives each of us the right to obtain confirmation from an agency as to whether it holds personal information about us, and it gives us the right to access that information.
The complaints we receive are often about the agency not providing the information within the statutory time frame. Section 40 of the Privacy Act says that time frame should be no later than 20 working days from the day the request is received. Section 41 allows an agency to extend the time limit if it has good reason to do so.
The Privacy Act does not contain a set form for individuals to use for principle 6 requests and therefore these can sometimes get lost amongst other correspondence received by an agency. This can cause unnecessary delays for the person requesting their information.
For my request to the local authority, I decided to use our office’s AboutMe online tool.
AboutMe helps individuals to create standardised principle 6 requests that go directly to a relevant email address at the agency concerned. Using AboutMe, a person can request personal information about themselves from nearly 300 public and private sector agencies. If an agency is not listed on AboutMe, simply enter the email address you want your request to go to.
I followed the easy instructions to request my personal information from the local authority. It was one of the agencies listed on AboutMe, and the whole process took about one minute to complete. I received a reply the following day from the local authority acknowledging my request.
As it turns out, the local authority resolved the issue of the bill which was the only reason I was seeking the information about me. This was a bonus. Trying to resolve disputes with large agencies (this particular one has almost 10,000 employees) can sometimes involve sitting on the phone for hours or sending emails that may be overlooked.
The next time I need personal information, I will definitely be using AboutMe.