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If you or your business has an issue with a public sector body or agency and the way they have acted, the Ombudsman in New Zealand is an important entity to note. It has a variety of powers to inspect and investigate any suspected wrongdoing by public bodies. It can also negotiate on behalf of New Zealanders to try to arrive at more positive outcomes. You can raise a complaint about a range of different public bodies through the Ombudsman. This article will set out: 

  • what the Ombudsman is;
  • how the complaint process works; and 
  • what issues it may be able to help you and your business with. 

What or Who Is the Ombudsman?

The Ombudsman sounds like it refers to a specific person. However, it generally refers to the wider office of the Ombudsman. Although, there is a ‘Chief Ombudsman’ (Peter Boshier, at the time of writing). They have primary responsibility for the Ombudsman and serve for a term of five years. Peter Boshier was appointed in December 2015, and in May 2020 was reappointed for a second five-year term.

The Ombudsman is an independent entity. It has wide powers to handle complaints and investigate the administrative conduct of public sector agencies, including official information requests. Further, it is not part of the government. Although it is occasionally appointed by parliament to investigate specific complaints about public sector agencies. Additionally, the staff are not public servants and are also independent of the government.

If you or your business have a sensitive complaint, you can rest assured that the Ombudsman (in terms of all staff) take an oath of confidentiality about all information related to your complaint. They will only disclose information if you allow or consent for them to do so. 

How Does the Complaint Process Work?

Anyone can complain to the Ombudsman, including on behalf of a business. Additionally, complaints are free and can relate to any act or decision of a government agency or other public body. You can also make complaints remotely if you are outside of New Zealand. However, the one precondition often required is that you have already tried to raise your complaint with the public body. Generally, you should try to resolve your issue with the public body first. Then you can turn to the Ombudsman if you cannot get anywhere with your original complaint.

What they will actually do after receiving a complaint depends on the nature of the issue. The vast majority of complaints are resolved quickly and informally. This is done by the Ombudsman communicating with the public body you are complaining about. However, they have more serious powers as well, including the power to:

  • investigate and even to enter government premises; 
  • require information and documents to be produced on-demand; and
  • summon witnesses.

What Issues Can the Ombudsman Help With?

The primary role of the Ombudsman is to investigate complaints against public bodies, but they have other important responsibilities as well. For instance, they can investigate any kind of unfairness or unreasonableness against you or your business if it involves a public body to some extent. They cover a huge array of different issues, including basically any public body aside from the police and government ministers. For instance, the Ombudsman can investigate any:

  • government agency;
  • local council, including city, district or regional councils;
  • district health board;
  • university or other tertiary education institution; or
  • school board of trustees. 

The Ombudsman is relevant if you or your business have suffered from an unsatisfactory Official Information Act request. You can complain to them and seek a fresh response from the public body in question if so. 

It is also the body to help if you or your business have any concerns or issues relating to the care of disabled people. There are three partners of New Zealand’s Independent Monitoring Mechanism, which include the:

  • Ombudsman;
  • Human Rights Commission; and
  • Disabled People’s Organisations’ Coalition.

Key Takeaways

The Ombudsman is a person (Peter Boshier, at the time of writing) and their wider office. They are responsible for holding public sector agencies and other public bodies accountable, including local councils, universities and district health boards. Further, if you or your business have not been treated fairly by a public body, you can raise a complaint with the Ombudsman. It has various powers, including inspecting and investigating any suspected wrongdoing by public bodies and bringing about positive solutions. If you want to know more about the Ombudsman or how to lay a complaint, contact LegalVision’s disputes and litigation lawyers on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Ombudsman?

It is an important institution for helping New Zealanders when they have a complaint about or have been mistreated by a public agency. It has a range of different powers aimed at supporting ensuring that the New Zealand public sector acts in a fair and reasonable way. 

Does it cost money to lay a complaint with the Ombudsman?

No, making a complaint or seeking other advice is free.

Is the Ombudsman a part of the government, or an independent entity?

It is independent and impartial, with the power to inspect and investigate alleged wrongdoing by agencies or people in the public sector.

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