Complaining about state sector agencies
This page provides information on making a complaint about the conduct of a state sector agency.
If you think you’ve been treated unfairly by a central or local government agency, the Ombudsman may be able to assist. However, there are some things you should do first.
- Try to resolve your complaint first
- Tips for resolving complaints
- Making a complaint to the Ombudsman
- What will happen with your complaint?
For information about what the Ombudsman can and can’t investigate, including information on common agency complaints like ACC, immigration, WINZ, IRD and EQC click here.
Before making a complaint to the Ombudsman, you should try to resolve it with the agency first. Many agencies have a complaints process. If this is not the case, you should write to the head or Chief Executive of the agency and make your complaint. The Ombudsman may decide not to investigate your complaint unless you have attempted to do this.
Focus on the main problem
Although you may be feeling frustrated, it is important that you focus on the main problem that you want to solve and don't get distracted by minor issues. Take some time to identify the issue that you want to complain about and what should be done to fix it. Only give the agency as much detail as it needs to sort the problem out.
A letter or a phone call - which is best?
It’s usually best to put your complaint in writing, especially if you are dealing with a large agency or your complaint is complicated.
However, it may be useful to phone the agency first to clarify issues, learn more about their complaint procedures or identify the person you need to write to. In some cases, it might be possible to resolve your complaint over the phone.
If you decide to phone the agency first, it’s best to speak to the person who deals with your type of complaint. Tell them your complaint, ask them if they can help and what they intend to do. Make a note of who you spoke to, when you spoke to them, and what was said.
If you're unsure whether they have understood your complaint or you are not satisfied with the response that you receive, write a letter or email. Even if you are satisfied, it might be best to confirm what was said in writing. Keep copies of your correspondence.
If you have any difficulty putting your concerns in writing, ask a friend or relative or a volunteer at your local Citizens Advice Bureau to help you.
What to include in your complaint
Address your correspondence to the person who is responsible for dealing with your type of complaint, if there is one. If you are unable to identify that person, write to the Chief Executive or head of the agency.
Set out your complaint as clearly and briefly as possible. Stick to the main points and don't go into too much detail. Include:
- your name and contact details
- relevant dates, places and times
- a description of the problem, incident or decision at issue
- details of any phone conversations, meetings, or other steps you’ve already taken to try and sort the problem out
- any other information you think is important
- any relevant documents.
Tell them what you want
Having explained the problem, tell the agency what action you think should be taken to resolve it. Avoid becoming abusive or aggressive or blaming people for the problem. Instead, explain that you are giving the agency a chance to fix a mistake or omission. Make sure your demands are reasonable. If they are realistic, you are more likely to get what you ask for. Ask for your letter to be acknowledged in writing and for the agency to give you an estimate of how long it will take to deal with your complaint. If there is any urgency, let the agency know and explain why.
Keep copies of all the correspondence you send or receive, and any other important documents or notes, such as details of phone calls. This is helpful if you later need to make a complaint to an external complaints body, like the Ombudsman.
If nothing happens, phone the agency to check on progress. If there has been no progress, you may want to write to the agency again. If you are unable to sort the problem out after making a reasonable effort to do so, you may want to consider contacting the Ombudsman.
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, and 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. Don’t delay too long in making your complaint because it can be difficult to investigate matters that occurred more than 12 months ago. If you need advice on how to make a complaint to the Ombudsman, phone us on 0800 802 602.
We’ll acknowledge your complaint and keep you informed during the complaint handling process.
We’ll then assess your complaint and let you know what action we propose to take. If we can’t take any action we’ll explain why, and may refer you to other agencies that can assist.
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 tell the agency about your complaint, and seek its explanation, along with any other relevant information.
After investigating, the Ombudsman will form a provisional opinion on whether the agency has acted unreasonably or unfairly. 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. Although the Ombudsman has no power to compel an agency to accept a recommendation, most recommendations are accepted.
Sometimes an agency will change its decision or offer a remedy during the investigation. Where that resolves the complaint, further investigation by the Ombudsman may be unnecessary.Back to top ↑