Below are some questions we are frequently asked. Please contact us if you have a question - it might be one that others want answered as well.
- What is an Ombudsman?
- What does the Ombudsman do?
- When should I contact the Ombudsman?
- What is the state sector?
- What powers does the Ombudsman have?
- What can a complaint to the Ombudsman achieve?
- Can I complain by phone? Email? Facebook?
- How much does it cost to make a complaint to the Ombudsman?
- Do I have to give my name? Will I be identified? Will my complaint be make public?
- What happens in an investigation?
The word 'Ombudsman' is Swedish and loosely translated means 'grievance person'. It was first used in its modern sense in 1809 when the Swedish Parliament established the office of Justitieombudsman, who was to look after citizens’ interests in their dealings with government. New Zealand was the first country outside Scandinavia to establish an Ombudsman in 1962. You can find more explanation on the history of the Office here.
The Ombudsman handles complaints and investigates the administrative conduct of state sector agencies, including in relation to official information requests. They also carry out a range of roles that go toward protecting your rights, like monitoring places of detention, and the implementation of the UN Disabilities Convention. You will find more explanation on the different roles and functions of the Ombudsman here
You should contact the Ombudsman when you have a problem with a state sector agency that you have been unable to resolve. For problems with official information requests, you can come straight to the Ombudsman for assistance if you do not receive a response to your request or are unhappy with the response you do receive. If you are unsure about when to seek help from the Ombudsman call us on 0800 802 602 or read more about our jurisdiction here.
The Ombudsman has authority to investigate approximately 4000 entities in the state sector, including:
- government departments and ministries;
- local authorities;
- crown entities;
- state-owned enterprises;
- district health boards;
- tertiary education institutions;
- school boards of trustees; and
- Ministers of the Crown (in relation to decisions on requests for official information).
The Ombudsman process is essentially an inquisitorial one. Ombudsman investigations are normally conducted in correspondence and by face to face or telephone interviews rather than in the adversarial environment of a courtroom. The Ombudsman has strong powers of investigation, which are set out in the Ombudsmen Act. Although the vast majority of complaints to the Ombudsman are resolved quickly and informally, the Ombudsman has the power to enter government premises, require information and documents to be produced on demand, summon witnesses and examine them on oath. All state sector agencies must co-operate with the Ombudsman’s investigations.
The Ombudsman 'system of justice' is significantly different from that of the Courts and Tribunals. Ombudsman findings are not confined to strict judicial precedent. Instead, the conclusions reached, are founded on what an Ombudsman considers just and reasonable in the particular circumstances of the case.
The Ombudsman has the power to recommend solutions or remedies. These will frequently extend beyond the sort of redress that a complainant could normally expect to obtain from the court and tribunal process. For example, an Ombudsman can determine best practice standards and recommend systemic change. The remedies offered by the Ombudsman often have greater potential for 'putting right' the specific maladministration that gave rise to the particular grievance in the first place. As a result, they can effect a degree of future prevention as well as retrospective cure - and this is where the underlying ethos of the Ombudsman approach (which is as much concerned with the longer-term improvement of administrative systems as it is with the resolution of individual disputes), comes to the fore. The Ombudsman is unable to enforce their recommendations. However, almost all the Ombudsman’s recommendations made over the past 50 years have been accepted and implemented by New Zealand’s state sector agencies.
Under New Zealand’s freedom of information legislation, any recommendations of the Ombudsman that are made to an agency become a public duty for the agency to observe on the 21st working day after they are made, unless the Governor-General, by order in Council, otherwise directs or the local authority, by resolution, otherwise decides.
A complaint to the Ombudsman should be put in writing. If you can’t do this yourself, call us on 0800 802 602 and we will try to help. You can make a complaint by email, fax or letter, or use our online complaints form. Your complaint should:
- set out the action, decision or conduct that you want to complain about
- provide any relevant background details
- explain the steps you’ve taken to try and resolve the matter
- include copies of your correspondence with the agency
- explain the outcome that you’re seeking.
Please don’t lodge your complaint on our facebook page. It’s not secure. Any complaints received via facebook will be referred to our Intake and Assessment Team and the complaint removed from public view. This is both to protect the individual's privacy and to comply with our statutory obligations to conduct investigations in private. If you need advice on how to make a complaint to the Ombudsman, phone us on 0800 802 602.
Making a complaint to the Ombudsman is free.
Normally, your name and other relevant information is necessary in order for the Ombudsman to address your complaint. All complaint information is kept strictly confidential. Investigations are required to be conducted in private. The Ombudsman does not identify anyone without their consent. This includes when the Ombudsman publishes their opinions.
After the issue is assessed and the decision is made to investigate, the Ombudsman then notifies the relevant state sector agency of the investigation. Investigators may then assist the Ombudsman by gathering the evidence upon which the Ombudsman bases their opinion and recommendations. The adversely affected party will be given the opportunity to respond or provide further comment before the Ombudsman’s opinion (and any recommendations) becomes final.Back to top ↑