What is the Ombudsman and what do they do?
The Ombudsman is an Officer of Parliament with three main functions:
- To investigate complaints about central and local government agencies, such as
- government departments and ministries e.g. Work and Income (part of the Ministry of Social Development)
- local authorities – city, district and regional councils
- public health authorities e.g. district health board
- education authorities e.g universities
- prisons and other places of detention
- To investigate complaints about official information requests that have been turned down by government agencies
- To advise people who want to make a disclosure about their employer under the Protected Disclosures Act 2000 (ie whistle-blowers).
The Ombudsman is responsible to Parliament, but independent of the Government, so they can effectively investigate complaints about government agencies. They are impartial and their investigations are confidential. There is no charge for their service.
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What kind of complaints won’t the Ombudsman investigate?
The Ombudsman cannot investigate a complaint about:
- a private organisation or person (unless it is a whistle-blowing issue)
- police conduct (apart from police decisions relating to requests for official information)
- a Court decision or Parole Board decision (in these situations you have to follow an appeal process)
- a lawyer or a Member of Parliament
- a decision of a government minister (but they can investigate the advice or recommendations given to a minister by a government agency)
The Ombudsman can decide not to investigate a complaint if:
- the person making the complaint has not tried to resolve it directly with the agency first
- there is an alternative way to sort out the problem
- the problem occurred more than 12 months before the complaint was made to the Ombudsman
- the person making the complaint does not have sufficient personal interest in the complaint
- the complaint is trivial, vexatious, or not made in good faith
If you aren’t sure whether the Ombudsman can investigate your complaint you can call them on 0800 802 602.
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When can I complain to the Ombudsman about a government agency?
If you think you have been treated unfairly by a government agency, you should first try to resolve it by using the agency’s internal complaints procedure. If there is no complaints procedure you should write to the manager or chief executive.
If this doesn’t resolve the issue satisfactorily, it is appropriate to then make a complaint to the Ombudsman.
More information about making a complaint about a government agency is on the Ombudsman’s website.
You can view some factsheets on the Office of the Ombudsman website about common complaints that are made about government agencies, and what kinds of complaints they can and can’t deal with.
For example, they can deal with a complaint about the standard of service provided by a Work and Income case manager to a client, but they usually can’t investigate a complaint about a Work and Income decision to refuse a benefit.
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When can I complain about an official information request?
If you requested information from a government agency but you are unsatisfied with the agency’s response to your request, you can complain to the Ombudsman.
More information about this is on our Official Information Act page.
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How do I make a complaint to the Ombudsman?
You should make your complaint within than 12 months of the incident, as it can be more difficult for the Ombudsman to investigate it otherwise.
Your complaint can be made online, by email, fax or letter.
You'll need to include:
- your name and address
- the name and address of the agency you are complaining about
- what your complaint is about (including copies of correspondence between you and the organisation)
- what you have done to try to sort out the problem
- what you would like to happen
If you need help with making your complaint you can ring the Ombudsman’s office on 0800 802 602.
You can send your complaint to:
PO Box 10152
Fax: 04 471 2254
There is no charge for making a complaint to the Ombudsman.