The Ombudsman is an independent authority who is there to help the community when they have difficulties in dealing with government agencies, including government departments, local bodies and crown entities.
The Office focuses on complaints and investigates the administrative conduct of agencies, including in relation to Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act requests.
It also has roles around the protection of rights, like monitoring places of detention, and the implementation of the United Nations Disabilities Convention.
The Office provides advice, guidance and training to agencies and works to build awareness of its role in the wider community.
While the Office largely responds to complaints from the public, it can also initiate its own investigations. This is usually prompted by serious or systemic issues where the Ombudsman thinks intervention has the potential to result in wider administrative improvement. Examples of this include:
- an investigation into the practices adopted by central government agencies for the purpose of compliance with the Official Information Act
- an investigation into access to EQC information in the aftermath of the Canterbury earthquakes
- an investigation into prisoner health services.
Problems with Official Information Act requests make up a significant part of the Office’s work. If an OIA request isn’t answered in the legal time allowed (20 working days), or the person making the request isn’t happy with the response, they can complain to the Ombudsman’s Office and it will investigate. This includes looking at:
- Refusals and deletions
- Delays and extensions
- The manner in which information is released
- Conditions on release.
The Ombudsman doesn’t 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 staff.
The Ombudsman’s Office also investigates complaints about the administrative acts and decisions of central and local government agencies, including Government departments and ministries, Crown entities, district health boards, state-owned enterprises, tertiary education institutions, school boards of trustees and local government.
The Office doesn’t investigate every complaint it receives. It can decline to investigate if:
- the complainant hasn’t first attempted to resolve the issue directly with the organisation being complained about
- there is an adequate alternative remedy reasonably available
- following preliminary enquiries, an investigation is considered unnecessary
- the complaint is more than 12 months old
- the complaint is trivial, vexatious or not made in good faith
- the complainant doesn’t have a sufficient personal interest in the complaint.
The Ombudsman provides information and guidance to people who have made, or want to make, a protected disclosure (whistleblowing). The Ombudsman is also one of the authorities listed in the Act to whom protected disclosures can be made. However, the proper processes need to be followed first.
Most organisations, and certainly all public sector organisations, have internal processes for protected disclosures and these should be followed first unless there are no processes, or the person who is supposed to receive disclosures is the one involved in wrongdoing. In those cases, or if there are urgent circumstances or if following the process has not resulted in action, people can ask the Ombudsman’s Office for help.
New Zealand is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the Office of the Ombudsman is one of the organisations responsible for promoting, protecting and monitoring progress in the implementation of the Convention. It does this with the New Zealand Convention Coalition (a group of national disabled people’s organisations) and the Human Rights Commission.