Complaining about access to official information
This page provides information about making an official information complaint to the Ombudsman.
- What complaints can the Ombudsman investigate?
- How do you make a complaint?
- What will happen with your complaint?
The official information legislation lists the types of complaints that an Ombudsman can investigate. They include:
- Refusals (including deletions made to documents)
- Delays (either the failure to respond to a request within the maximum 20 working day limit, or undue delay in releasing information)
- Decisions about the manner in which information will be made available (e.g. providing an opportunity to inspect the information rather than providing a copy)
- Conditions on the use, communication or publication of information.
Other concerns relating to the handling of official information requests (e.g. the transfer of requests) can potentially be the subject of a complaint to the Ombudsman under the Ombudsmen Act, provided the agency in question is subject to that Act. Agencies not subject to the Ombudsmen Act include Ministers and the Police.
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.
Tell us what you want to complain about and why, e.g. “I want to complain because I haven’t received a response to my request within 20 working days”. Include brief background details where you think these are relevant. Where possible, provide copies of your request and any correspondence you’ve had with the agency about it.
There’s no obligation for you to tell us why you want the information. However, it can be helpful for us to know this if we have to consider the public interest in release of the information.
If there are particular things you want us to focus on say what these are. For instance, if there are different parts to an agency’s response, but you only want to complain about one part, let us know. This may make it faster to deal with your complaint.
We’ll acknowledge your complaint and keep you informed during the complaint handling process.
We might make informal enquiries to try and deal with your complaint as quickly as possible. If we can resolve your complaint informally an investigation may not be necessary.
If we decide an investigation is necessary, we’ll let you know, and tell you who you can contact if you have any queries. At the same time, we’ll tell the agency about your complaint, and seek its explanation. If any information has been withheld, the Ombudsman will view it.
In some cases, it may be necessary for the Ombudsman to consult third parties. For instance, where individual privacy is a reason for withholding official information, the Ombudsman is required to consult the Privacy Commissioner.
After investigating, the Ombudsman will form a provisional opinion on whether your request was handled correctly. Anyone adversely affected by that opinion will have an opportunity to comment before a final decision is made.
Where necessary, the Ombudsman may make a recommendation to the agency. The Ombudsman’s recommendation becomes binding 21 working days after it has been made, unless it is vetoed by the Cabinet (in the case central government agencies), or by resolution of the local authority.
Sometimes an agency will change its decision during the investigation. Where that resolves the complaint, further investigation by the Ombudsman may be unnecessary.
If any information is to be released as a result of the Ombudsman’s enquiries, this will be done by the agency itself, and not by the Ombudsman or their staff.Back to top ↑