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How to make a complaint

What should you do first?

Before coming to the Ombudsman you should try to resolve the issue with the public sector agency itself. 

If you are a child/tamaiti or a young person/rangatahi (or a trusted adult contacting us on their behalf) you can come to us directly.

Many agencies have a complaints process. If they don’t, write to the head of the agency, such as the chief executive or chairperson.

The Ombudsman may decide not to investigate unless you’ve tried to do this first.

Tips for resolving a complaint with a government agency

What the Ombudsman can do

This video explains what happens when you make a complaint to the New Zealand Ombudsman about a public sector agency.


Each year the Office of the Ombudsman receives thousands of complaints from people who feel they have been treated unfairly by a government agency.

We have oversight over nearly 4,000 public sector agencies including councils and school boards of trustees.

My Office is fair, independent and free to use.

We investigate government agencies including cases where you’ve asked for official information from them and you’re unhappy with their response.

We also receive protected disclosures about serious wrongdoing in the workplace.

We monitor places of detention and make sure disabled people are treated fairly. The Chief Ombudsman is assisted by more than a hundred staff dedicated to resolving complaints and dealing with other problems and issues.

My promise is that when we receive a complaint we’ll try to resolve it quickly but informally where we can. If the issue is complex, I’ll launch an investigation and assign a specialist investigator to your case. I can’t necessarily guarantee the outcome that you want, but I do guarantee it will be investigated thoroughly and fairly.

The Ombudsman also investigates wider administrative issues in the public sector.

An individual complaint may trigger a wider investigation. My office is also looking for patterns of complaint and whether there are broader problems within the structure of an organisation. I’m constantly looking for ways we can prevent issues from arising in the future.

In 1962 New Zealand became the fourth country in the world to create an Ombudsman’s office.

Today the Office is part of a network of more than 150 Ombudsmen around the world.

Check out our website for more detail about us and how we can help you.

You can make a complaint over the phone, by email, online or posting it to us. 

Get help (for the public)

General complaints freephone: 0800 802 602

Complaints to the Ombudsman about Oranga Tamariki freephone: 0800 184 184

Email: [email protected]

Making an online complaint

Post: The Ombudsman, PO Box 10152, Wellington 6143

What happens when you make a complaint

When you make a complaint to the Ombudsman, it goes through a number of stages. Find out about each stage by watching this video.


When you make a complaint to the Ombudsman, it goes through a number of stages.

This is to make sure we have all the information we need to reach a fair outcome.

When you complain to the Ombudsman, his investigators will let you know they’ve received it.

They take a close look at your complaint to see if the Ombudsman can help.

If the Ombudsman can’t help, they will let you know if there is other action you can take.

If the Ombudsman can help, the investigators will talk to you and the people in the agency concerned and try to sort it out informally.

If your complaint can’t be resolved and the Ombudsman decides to look into it further, he starts a formal investigation into your complaint.

If the Ombudsman decides to do a formal investigation, he will tell you and the agency involved.

His investigators will make sure they have all the relevant information from you and the agency involved.

The Ombudsman will form an initial view on your complaint.

This is called a ‘provisional opinion’.

The Ombudsman can check at this stage if he has missed anything important.

Before reaching a final opinion, the Ombudsman will carefully consider what those affected have to say.

Then he’ll give his final opinion on your complaint.

This may include recommendations to address the issue you have raised.

The Chief Ombudsman works to resolve complaints as soon as he can.

Some complex cases though may take more time.

The Chief Ombudsman’s target is to complete 70% of complaints within three months, 80% within six months and 95% within a year.

Tips on making your complaint to the Ombudsman

Thinking about making a complaint to the New Zealand Ombudsman? Here are some tips which will help you.


First, try to sort out your problem with the agency you are having a problem with.

They should have a complaints process on their website which tells you the right way to make a complaint. Find out what their complaints process is and follow the steps. 

If the agency does not have a complaints process, write a letter or an email to the head of the agency. Tell them why you are unhappy.

If you cannot sort out your problem with the agency, you can make a complaint to the Ombudsman.

You can do this by:

  • sending us an email
  • filling out the form on our website
  • writing a letter to us.

Tips for making your complaint

Make your complaint as soon as you can. It makes it hard for us to look at your complaint if it is about something that happened more than a year ago. Call us if you want to talk it through with us first before making your complaint in writing.

Tell us:

  • what happened to make you unhappy
  • why you think it is unfair
  • what the agency has said about your complaint.

Only give us information about your complaint.

Show us:

  • documents about your complaint
  • anything else you think we need to see about your complaint.

Don’t give us extra information that is not about your complaint, as we can’t use that.

Tell us what you would like to happen to fix your complaint.

You can find more information at

What you need to know

  • Don’t delay. It may be hard for the Ombudsman to investigate a complaint about something that happened more than 12 months ago.
  • Describe the decision or action you want to complain about, and explain why you think it was unfair.
  • Be clear and concise. Stick to the main facts at the heart of your complaint, and don't add too much detail unless it’s necessary.
  • Provide letters, documents or other evidence that show you’ve already tried to sort out the issue with the agency.
  • Explain the outcome you want.

Make a complaint online

Complain for someone else

How the Ombudsman looks at complaints

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