Complaints about access to official information
This page contains information about the official information legislation and the Ombudsman's role in investigating official information complaints.
- What is the official information legislation?
- Which agencies are subject to the legislation?
- What is official information?
- Who can request official information?
- How to request official information
- What should happen with your request for official information?
- What does the Ombudsman do?
- Where can I find out more?
When we talk about the ‘official information legislation’, we’re referring to two laws:
- the Official Information Act (often referred to as the ‘OIA'), which applies to Ministers and central government agencies, and
- the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (we call this ‘LGOIMA’ for short), which applies to local government agencies.
The legislation allows people to request official information held by Ministers and specified central and local government agencies. It contains rules for how such requests should be handled, and provides for a right of complaint to the Ombudsman in certain situations.
The OIA applies to Ministers of the Crown and agencies listed in:
- parts 1 and 2 of schedule 1 of the Ombudsmen Act (except for the Parliamentary Counsel Office, the Parliamentary Service and mortality review committees)
- schedule 1 of the OIA.
These agencies include:
- Government departments and ministries
- Crown entities
- District health boards
- State-owned enterprises
- Tertiary education institutions
- School boards of trustees
The LGOIMA applies to agencies listed in schedule 1 of that Act, including city, district or regional councils. It also applies to council-controlled organisations (see section 74 of the Local Government Act 2002).
If you’re unsure whether an agency is subject to the official information legislation, contact us for assistance.
You could also refer to the Directory of Official Information, which is published by the Ministry of Justice. The Directory can be found at your local library, or online at the Ministry’s website www.justice.govt.nz.
Official information is any information 'held' by an agency subject to the legislation. This includes:
- documents, reports, memoranda, letters, emails and drafts
- non-written information, such as video or tape recordings (official information has also been interpreted to include information which is known to an agency but has not yet been written down)
- the reasons for any decisions that have been made about you
- manuals which set out internal rules, principles, policies or guidelines for decision making
- the agendas and minutes of meetings (including those not open to the public).
It’s important to note that information must be held, i.e. in existence, when it is requested. There is no obligation under the legislation to create information in order to respond to a request. The legislation is not a mechanism that can be used to force agencies to engage in debate or generate justifications or explanations in relation to a matter of interest to the requester.
Anyone can request official information under the LGOIMA. However, there are some restrictions on who can request official information under the OIA. To request information under that Act you must be:
- a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident
- in New Zealand
- a body corporate incorporated or with a place of business in New Zealand.
Agencies are entitled to seek information from a requester in order to verify that they meet the eligibility requirements of the OIA.
There’s no set form for making an official information request. A request can be made orally or in writing, although writing is preferable because it means you have a record of your request, and everyone is on the same page about what information it is that you’re seeking. You don’t have to refer to the OIA or LGOIMA, but again, it can help to ensure that your request is handled in accordance with the requirements of the legislation.
An agency has to respond to your request for official information as soon as reasonably practicable and within 20 working days of receipt. This time limit can be extended due to the volume of information or consultation required in order to reach a decision.
The basic principle of the legislation is that official information should be made available unless there's a good reason for withholding it. The legislation sets out the reasons that can justify the refusal of a request for official information. The legislation also provides that agencies can impose a reasonable charge for supplying official information. If your request is refused, the agency should tell you why, and that you can complain to the Ombudsman.
If you do not receive a response to your request for official information within the statutory time limit, or you are unhappy with the response you receive, you can complain to the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman’s role is to 'investigate and review' the agency’s decision (or lack of decision) on your request. This includes looking at:
- Refusals and deletions
- Delays and extensions
- The manner in which information is released
- Conditions on release.
The Ombudsman does not receive requests for official information, and is not subject to the official information legislation. Requests must be made to the agency that holds the information.
The Ombudsman does not release official information to requesters. If 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.
Click here for more information about making an official information complaint to the Ombudsman.
More information can be found in our detailed guide to Making official information requests.
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