Responding to Requests to Access Information
From time to time, your Not-for-profit or cause may receive requests to access information.
These requests could come from a member requesting access to meeting minutes, financial records or personal information held about them. You may even receive a request for documents as part of a court proceeding.
These requests can be confusing, as it can be difficult to determine whether you are required by law to disclose the information, whether you must not disclose the information, or whether you are entitled by law to choose. If you're unsure of your organisation's obligations, it's important to seek legal assistance as soon as possible.
Record Keeping Requirements
Charities registered with the ACNC and Incorporated Associations have record keeping requirements under state and territory laws. It's important to keep records up to date, and stored in a secure an well known location. We'll focus on associated incorporations for the purpose of this blog.
Who is responsible for record keeping?
Check your association's rules, policies and procedures. While the association's secretary is responsible for keeping documents and registers, the treasurer or other committee members may also have an obligation to keep records, or provide them to the secretary for secure storage.
It's important to understand that if the secretary delegates part of the record keeping to another committee member or volunteer, they remain responsible. The secretary must still supervise to make sure the task has been carried out correctly.
Records your association may be required to keep include
- financial records
- minutes of committee meetings
- member registers
- committee member/office holder records.
Penalties can apply if these records aren't kept.
Member's Access to Records
Rules for access to records vary by state, so we'll use Western Australia (WA) as an example. In WA, an Incorporated Association must have a rule about member's access to the association's records. These rules should set out the extent of the member's access.
If your assocation is using the Model Rules, then a member who wants to inspect financial records must be entitled to access these records free of charge. They are able to make a copy of information they are accessing, but they can't remove records. The member should contact the secretary to arrange access.
Incorporated associations must keep and maintain a register of members. This register must include the members name and address. The member's address can be an email address, residential address or postal address. Any member changes need to be updated in the register within 28 days of the change.
In Western Australia, an incorporated association must make the register available to a member if requested. The Associations Incorporation Act 2015 (WA) allows the association to make a rule that requires the request to be accompanied by a statuary declaration setting out the purpose, and that the reason for the request is relevant to the operations of the association. The rule can also require that a fee be paid for access. Fines for not complying with this request range from a $300 penalty under the Regulations to a fine of $2,750 under the AI Act.
A Word of Caution
It's important that if your association holds personal member information such as names and addresses, that this information is securely kept and that you comply with privacy law obligations.
You can find more information regarding keeping and accessing documents records and registeres for each state on the Not-for-profit Law website.
What Other Registers Should an Incorporated Association Keep?
White not a requirement, as part of good governance you may also wish to keep
- an assets register
- a risk register
- an insurance policies register
- a common seal register (if your association has one)
- an investments register
- a register of other relevant documents such as contracts, certificates and correspondence licences.
The Not-for-profit Law website is a comprehensive resource for for NFPs. You can find a wealth of information on their website https://www.nfplaw.org.au.