This information outlines the work of the Commonwealth Ombudsman in dealing with complaints about Australian Government departments and agencies. It is designed to assist agencies and individuals dealing with Ombudsman enquiries and investigations.
General information is provided on the Ombudsman’s role, powers and responsibilities, and how the office deals with complaints and approaches. A flowchart depicts the general process and a checklist is provided for dealing with contacts from the Ombudsman office. This is for general information only. If you have a query about the handling of a specific complaint, you should contact the relevant Ombudsman investigation officer in the first instance.
- Role, powers and responsibilities
- Handling complaints and approaches
- Dealing with complaints and approaches
- Receiving and assessing complaints and approaches
- Deciding to investigate
- Commencing an investigation
- Contacting the agency
- Assessing the agency response and clarifying points
- Exercising formal powers
- Criticisms and natural justice
- Remedies, suggestions and systemic issues
- Concluding an investigation
- More information?
Role, powers and responsibilities
Role of the Ombudsman
The office of Commonwealth Ombudsman was established by the Ombudsman Act 1976. The office was created as part of a comprehensive reform of Australian administrative law in the 1970s. The Ombudsman plays a part, along with courts and administrative tribunals, in examining government administrative action.
The Ombudsman is impartial and independent - not an advocate for complainants or for agencies.
Major statutory roles
The Commonwealth Ombudsman has five major statutory roles directed at safeguarding the community in their dealings with Australian Government agencies.
The first role, under the Ombudsman Act, is to investigate complaints from individuals, groups or organisations about the administrative actions of Australian Government officials and agencies.
The second role, also under the Ombudsman Act, is to undertake investigations of administrative action on an ‘own motion’ basis - that is, on the initiative of the Ombudsman, though prompted often by the insight gained from handling individual complaints.
In either case, the Ombudsman can recommend that remedial action be taken by an agency, either specifically in an individual case, or generally by a change to legislation or administrative policies or procedures.
The third role is to inspect the records of agencies such as the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission to ensure compliance with legislative requirements applying to selected law enforcement and regulatory activities. This role is specified in the relevant legislation, such as the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979.
The fourth role is to oversee the operation of the Commonwealth Public Interest Disclosure (PID) scheme which seeks to encourage the disclosure of information about suspected wrongdoing, protects public officials who make disclosures and places obligations on agencies to take appropriate action. In addition to investigating complaints about agencies' handling of PID, this oversight role is specified in the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 and includes receiving notifications by agencies, investigating disclosures, providing assistance and awareness programs and reporting annually on the operation of the PID scheme.
The fifth role is Immigration detention oversight where under the Migration Act 1958 the Ombudsman must assess the appropriateness of the arrangements for a person who has been in immigration detention for two years or more.
The Ombudsman Act also confers a number of specialist roles on the Ombudsman:
- Defence Force Ombudsman - handling complaints by serving and former members of the Australian Defence Force relating to their service
- Immigration Ombudsman - handling complaints about immigration administration
- Law Enforcement Ombudsman - oversight of the handling of complaints about the conduct and practices of the Australian Federal Police and its members
- Postal Industry Ombudsman - handling complaints about Australia Post and private postal operators registered with the Postal Industry Ombudsman scheme
- Private Health Insurance Ombudsman - responsible for protecting the interests of private health insurance consumers.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman is also the ACT Ombudsman under the Ombudsman Act 1989 (ACT) and is funded for this function through an agreement with the ACT Government.
The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act 2015 provides oversight responsibilities for the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman. These statutory oversight responsibilities involve mandatory regular compliance audits of relevant entities’ use of covert and intrusive powers.
Freedom of Information - The Commonwealth Ombudsman is responsible for handling complaints about the processing of freedom of information requests.
The Ombudsman and Deputy Ombudsmen are statutory appointments, and staff of the Ombudsman office are engaged under the Public Service Act 1999. See current senior structure of the Ombudsman office.
For administrative purposes, such as budgeting and annual reporting, the Ombudsman’s office is part of the portfolio of Prime Minister and Cabinet, along with other integrity agencies such as the Australian National Audit Office, the Australian Public Service Commission and the Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. Given the statutory independence of the Ombudsman, he or she is not subject to any direction in relation to complaint handling, investigations, compliance auditing and related activities.
What the Ombudsman can investigate
The Ombudsman can investigate the administrative actions of most Australian Government departments or agencies and prescribed private sector organisations. The term ‘administrative action’ is not defined under the Ombudsman Act and, consistent with the beneficial nature of the legislation, it is interpreted in its broad sense. For example, matters investigated can include policy development, commercial conduct, the exercise of statutory responsibilities, law enforcement activities, decisions on applications for benefits or concessions, compensation decisions, and decisions on applications made under the Freedom of Information Act 1982.
The Ombudsman can also investigate the actions of ‘Commonwealth service providers’ - that is, a contractor or subcontractor who provides goods or services for, or on behalf of, an agency to the public. For example, the Ombudsman can investigate the actions of immigration detention service providers.
What the Ombudsman cannot investigate
The tax complaint handling role was transferred to the Inspector-General of Taxation effective from 1 May 2015. Complaints about tax administration action by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) or the Tax Practitioners Board (TPB) must be directed to the Inspector-General of Taxation (IGT). The Ombudsman continues to deal with complaints concerning Freedom of Information (FOI) or Public Interest Disclosures (PID) issues relating to the ATO or TPB. Click here for further information.
The main agencies that are excluded from the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction include the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), the Commonwealth Grants Commission, the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal and the Remuneration Tribunal. The Ombudsman does not have jurisdiction to review the decisions of courts and some tribunals, but does have jurisdiction to review the administrative actions of court and tribunal registries (more detail is available from the Ombudsman’s report Commonwealth courts and tribunals: complaint-handling processes and the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction (Commonwealth Ombudsman Report No 12/2007).
The Ombudsman cannot investigate the actions and decisions of Members of Parliament, Senators or Ministers. However the Ombudsman can investigate the advice provided by agencies to Ministers. For example, an investigation might look at whether the agency provided accurate, balanced, comprehensive advice to a Minister on a particular issue.
In general the Ombudsman is not able to investigate matters relating to employment in the Australian Public Service or prescribed authorities. For example, complaints about promotion, termination, discipline or remuneration are outside the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction. Some matters incidental to employment, such as the payment of workers compensation or superannuation, do fall within jurisdiction.
However, as Defence Force Ombudsman, the Ombudsman can investigate employment-related complaints about current or past service in the Australian Defence Force.
Complaints and other approaches
The Ombudsman’s office receives approximately 30,000 complaints and other approaches each year. They can be made orally (by telephone or in person); in writing (by letter, email, fax or SMS); or over the internet; by any person or organisation.
The office accepts complaints made on behalf of someone else, provided we are satisfied that the person making the complaint has the authority of the person they are complaining on behalf of, or if the person making the complaint is acting for the person in a professional capacity (for example, a solicitor or migration agent).
We also accept anonymous complaints, and complaints where a person does not want their identity revealed to the agency in question (for example, complaints by whistleblowers).
Agency contact arrangements
Under the Ombudsman Act, the Ombudsman may make arrangements with the principal officer of an agency (for example, the Secretary of a Department) about the way in which the Ombudsman will inform the principal officer that he or she proposes to undertake an investigation in relation to that agency. These contact arrangements are reviewed periodically at the initiative of either the Ombudsman or the agency head.
The contact arrangements vary from agency to agency. For example, in some cases there are a number of areas in an agency, based on different geographic locations, which are nominated as the initial points of contact for Ombudsman staff. In other cases, the points of contact might be based on the subject matter of the complaint, or all contact initially goes through a single agency contact. In the absence of alternative contact arrangements, Ombudsman staff must first raise complaints with the principal officer of the agency in question.
Having appropriate agency contact arrangements in place is important in helping ensure complaints can be dealt with as efficiently as possible, both for the Ombudsman’s office and for the agency concerned.
Powers and responsibilities of the Ombudsman
An investigation under the Ombudsman Act must be conducted in private, and as the Ombudsman sees fit. This means it is up to Ombudsman staff, under delegation and with guidance from the Ombudsman, to decide which issues in a complaint are to be investigated and how the investigation is to be carried out. The Ombudsman Act also provides that Ombudsman office staff and former staff shall not disclose information obtained in the course of their work except as required in the performance of their duties under the Act.
The Ombudsman has wide-ranging powers to obtain information for the investigation of complaints, although the vast majority of complaints are resolved without using these formal powers. Resolving complaints through a voluntary and cooperative approach with the minimum of formality enables speedier resolution of complaints, and provides efficiencies for the Ombudsman’s office and for agencies.
Under the formal powers in the Ombudsman Act, the Ombudsman (via written notice) can:
- require a person or an agency to provide documents or other written records relevant to an investigation (s 9)
- require a person to attend a specified place and answer questions (s 9)
- examine witnesses on oath or affirmation (s 13)
- visit agency premises and inspect documents (s 14).
If powers under s 9 are being exercised, the Ombudsman must advise the relevant Minister of the action being investigated, if this has not already occurred.
These coercive powers are used in circumstances such as where the person providing the information requires protection from defamation or other civil/criminal action for disclosing the information, where there may be other restrictions raising concerns about voluntary disclosure, where agencies or people may be reluctant to provide the information, or because of the gravity of the complaint.
The Ombudsman Act overrides the secrecy provisions in other legislation, the privilege against self-incrimination, and the official use of legal professional privilege. It is only in the most extreme case that a person would be lawfully excused from complying with a notice. If an agency has some concern about especially sensitive information, the agency should discuss the matter with the relevant Ombudsman staff.
Opportunity to comment
The Ombudsman Act also provides that, where a person or agency may be implicitly or explicitly criticised, the person or agency must first be given an opportunity to make submissions about the matter. This is described further in Criticisms and natural justice.
Protections for agency staff
The Ombudsman Act provides protection for an agency or person who gives the Ombudsman information when requested, or because it reasonably appears relevant to an investigation. Information given to the Ombudsman’s office, for example by an agency officer authorised to do so:
- cannot be used in evidence against the person (other than for giving false or misleading information)
- does not breach the Privacy Act 1988
- does not affect a claim that may be made for legal professional privilege.
For example, if Ombudsman investigation staff request documents relating to a person, and those documents contain a reference to other people, the provision of the documents containing that information would not ordinarily (as part of an investigation) breach the Privacy Act.
These statutory protections apply regardless of whether a request for information is made by the Ombudsman’s office under s 9 of the Ombudsman Act or less formally. This facilitates voluntary disclosure, by removing possible barriers.
Under the Ombudsman Act, people who, in good faith, make a complaint to the Ombudsman, or give information to Ombudsman staff, are protected from civil proceedings relating to any loss, damage or injury suffered by another person as a result.
Recommendations, remedies and suggestions
If the Ombudsman considers there has been administrative deficiency, he or she may recommend some form of remedy.
Remedies may include recommendations to:
- expedite action
- change or reconsider a decision
- give an explanation, or a better explanation, for the agency’s actions
- provide an apology
- reduce, waive or write off a debt or penalty
- pay some form of financial compensation.
Where an investigation has revealed a broader, systemic problem, recommendations may be made to address the problem. This may include recommendations to
- change the agency’s procedures
- improve training for agency staff
- change policy or legislation.
The Ombudsman has no power to force an agency to change a decision or provide a service. Rather, the Ombudsman relies on working with agencies to resolve problems, and most Ombudsman recommendations are accepted by agencies. The provision of a remedy considered adequate by the Ombudsman is likely to lead to an investigation being finalised.
In the rare cases where there is evidence that an officer’s behaviour is a breach of duty or misconduct and that evidence is sufficiently strong, the Ombudsman may refer the matter to the head of the agency under s 8(10) of the Ombudsman Act.
The large majority of the complaints investigated by the Ombudsman’s office are resolved informally. However, where the Ombudsman considers there has been a serious case of administrative deficiency, or there is some remedial action the agency should take but has not agreed to, the Ombudsman may make a formal report under s 15 of the Ombudsman Act.
Section 15 reports are made to the principal officer of the agency(ies) concerned and a copy is provided to the relevant Minister(s). The report generally contains a summary of the investigation, discussion about any issues that are still in contention with the agency, and the Ombudsman’s conclusions and recommendations.
If the Ombudsman considers the agency has not made an adequate and appropriate response in a reasonable time, he or she may make a report to the Prime Minister (under s 16) and to the Parliament (s 17). Such reports are rare.
If he or she believes it is in the public interest, the Ombudsman may issue a public report or a statement on any matter concerning an investigation, or the performance of any other functions of the office, under s 35A of the Ombudsman Act. It is common practice to include the agency response, or a summary of the response, when a report of an investigation is released publicly.
Working cooperatively with the Ombudsman
Usually, when someone makes a complaint to the Ombudsman they believe that agency staff have dealt with them wrongly, made a poor decision, taken action they should not have taken, or failed to take action they should have taken. We recognise that in some cases it can be difficult and even confronting for agency staff to deal with such issues, whether or not the allegations are well-founded. The focus of the Ombudsman’s office is on identifying whether there has been a problem and how it might be resolved as quickly as possible, and not on apportioning ‘blame’ to individual officers.
The best results can be achieved from an investigation when the agency works cooperatively with the Ombudsman’s office, is open and provides information in a timely manner.
Ombudsman office staff are not experts on every area of government administration. Sometimes it will facilitate speedier resolution of a complaint if agency staff can provide Ombudsman staff with a general, informal briefing on the area of concern, relevant agency procedures or the legislative background that relates to a complaint. On some occasions we may request a briefing, and it is always open to agencies to suggest such a briefing.
In some cases, agency staff will be aware of additional information that is relevant to a complaint but which has not been requested. To help resolve the complaint quickly, it is best to make the Ombudsman staff aware of that information. If this is done in good faith, on the basis the material is considered relevant, the protections of the Ombudsman Act described in Protections for agency staff.
If agency staff cannot provide the information requested, or in the timeframe requested, it is best to discuss any problems with the Ombudsman investigation officer in the first instance. If there are broader concerns, these can be raised with the investigation officer’s supervisor, at Senior Assistant Ombudsman level, or higher where appropriate.
Where a matter is under investigation and also the subject of ongoing agency action, the agency should continue to deal with the matter as part of its normal business. However depending on the nature of the complaint and the action, it may be prudent to consult with the Ombudsman investigation staff, or staff at an appropriate level in the Ombudsman’s office. For example, depending on the circumstances it may be better for an agency to suspend action such as debt recovery while the investigation is underway. In other cases, such as where a complaint is about a delay in making a decision on an application, it would be better for the agency to continue processing the application.
Handling complaints and approaches
Dealing with complaints and approaches
About 80% of the 30,000 complaints and other approaches received by the Ombudsman's office each year are received by telephone. Our Service Charter sets out the standards of service people can expect from us, how they can assist us to help them, and provides an opportunity for people to comment on our performance. See also Commonwealth Ombudsman Fact Sheet 1 - Ombudsman investigations.
Receiving and assessing complaints and approaches
The Ombudsman office’s Public Contact Team is the initial point of contact for most complaints and approaches made to the office. The officer who receives the initial contact will first decide whether a person has a complaint about an agency or matter which is in the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction, a complaint about an agency or matter which is not in the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction, or is making another type of approach, such as a request for information.
If the person has a complaint which is not in the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction, such as a complaint about a state government agency, the contact officer will provide the person with advice about where to pursue their complaint. If the person is seeking information, the contact officer will try to advise of avenues where the person might get that advice. For example, if someone has an enquiry about an immigration matter, the contact officer will give them contact details for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, and possibly advice about how to find a migration agent or legal advice.
If the person is complaining about an agency or matter which is in the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction, the contact officer will assess whether the matter should be investigated. If it is not straightforward, the officer will pass the complaint to investigation staff who will decide whether to investigate the matter or not.
Deciding to investigate
Under the Ombudsman Act, the Ombudsman has a broad discretion not to investigate a complaint. On average, 65 - 75% of complaints that are in jurisdiction are not investigated upon initial receipt of a complaint.
The most common reason for not investigating a complaint is that the person has not yet raised the matter with the agency. There can be advantages for both the complainant and the agency if an attempt is made to resolve the problem before external intervention, and many agencies have well-developed complaint-handling mechanisms. The Ombudsman’s office is more likely to deal with a complaint without the matter first being handled by the agency concerned in cases where:
- the relationship between the person and the agency is difficult
- the person is effectively unable to manage their own complaint
- there is concern that the complaint will not be handled adequately by the agency, either because of the nature of the complaint or the effectiveness of the agency’s complaint-handling mechanism.
Other reasons for not investigating a complaint include:
- the matter has been, is being, or could be considered by a court or tribunal
- the complainant has insufficient interest in the matter (that is, they do not have a personal ‘stake’ in the matter)
- investigation is not warranted in all the circumstances - for example, there is no useful or viable remedy likely to be available, there is no substance to the matter or it is relatively minor, or the agency has already offered a remedy and it is unlikely a better outcome would be achieved.
If a decision is made not to investigate a complaint, the investigation officer gives their reason(s) to the complainant.
In some cases, where there is another body that might more appropriately deal with a matter, such as the Privacy Commissioner, the Ombudsman’s office may transfer the complaint to that body.
Commencing an investigation
When a complaint is to be investigated, it is allocated to an investigation officer. The allocation is based on factors such as the nature of the complaint (for example, its complexity or urgency), the subject matter, the agency, the location of internal subject/agency specialists, staff workloads, and the geographic location of the complainant.
The investigation officer will undertake an initial assessment of the complaint, which may include:
- clarifying information with the complainant or seeking further information from them
- researching relevant legislation, government programs and other available information
- considering any other similar cases the office has dealt with
- consulting with internal subject specialists or obtaining internal legal advice
- deciding which parts of the complaint, if any, will not be investigated.
After conducting the initial assessment, the investigation officer draws up an investigation plan for consideration by their manager and refinement as necessary.
Contacting the agency
Once the manager has agreed to the investigation plan, the investigation officer contacts the agency through the agreed contact arrangements (see Agency contact arrangements). Depending on the complaint and the agreed arrangements, the contact may be by telephone, email, fax, letter or in person. The aim of this initial contact is to advise of the investigation and to obtain the agency’s version of events, additional information or relevant documents.
The investigation officer will outline the issue(s) being investigated and relevant information as they understand it at the time - for example, the complainant’s version of events.
The Ombudsman Act also enables a preliminary inquiry to be made with an agency, to ascertain whether a matter is in jurisdiction or should be investigated (s 7A). Given the lack of a clear distinction between a ‘preliminary inquiry’ and an ‘investigation’, and in the interests of efficiency, the Ombudsman’s office treats all contact with an agency in relation to a complaint as an investigation.
Assessing the agency response and clarifying points
When the agency responds, the investigation officer will assess the response to see whether the matter can be finalised or further work is required.
In many straightforward investigations, the matter may be resolved in one phone call or written communication. For example, the agency may explain the issue, identify a way to resolve the person’s problem, show that the issue has already been dealt with adequately, or clarify that they have sought further information from the complainant and are waiting for that to be provided.
In other complaints, investigation officers will need to undertake a more detailed assessment of the agency response by:
- assessing the agency’s comprehension of the issues raised
- reviewing the completeness of the information supplied
- identifying disagreements about the facts (for example, where there is a significant variation between the complainant’s version and the agency’s version)
- identifying disagreements about the lawfulness or reasonableness of the agency’s actions.
There are a variety of things an investigation officer may need to do following this assessment. For example, they may need to:
- undertake further research or obtain internal legal or specialist advice
- seek further information from the complainant or obtain their response on particular points
- seek further information from the agency where matters are unclear or additional issues of concern have been identified
- seek information from another person or organisation
- discuss with the agency possible remedies if there appears to have been an administrative problem
- escalate the complaint if it is more complex than originally thought, or it would be better handled by a more senior officer.
The test used in assessing the information in an investigation is the ‘balance of probability’ test. The standard of ‘evidence’ required depends on the gravity of the matter. For example, verbal advice or emailed advice from an agency contact officer may be sufficient when dealing with a routine matter, while more serious issues may require detailed correspondence between the Ombudsman’s office and the agency, review of relevant agency documents and files, or use of the formal powers under the Ombudsman Act.
While many complaints are resolved quickly with one or a few transactions with the agency, in complex cases there can be extensive exchanges of information over extended periods of time before a matter can be resolved.
Exercising formal powers
In a small number of cases the exercise of the formal powers under the Ombudsman Act (described in Power and responsibilities of the Ombudsman) may be required or desirable. The Ombudsman or a Deputy Ombudsman are involved in any decision to use these powers.
When the power to access documents or information is used (s 9(1)), a written notice is sent to the person/agency outlining the documents/information to be provided, where they should be sent, and the required timeframe. When the power to interview a person is used (s 9(2)), a written notice is issued to the person outlining the matter under investigation and the time and place of interview. Additional information outlining the interviewee’s obligations and entitlements is also provided. In nearly all cases the timing and place of interview is agreed with the interviewee before the notice is issued.
The protections under the Ombudsman Act, outlined in Protections for agency staff, apply regardless of whether information is provided informally or in response to the exercise of formal powers. There are penalties for not complying with the requirements of notices issued under s 9.
Criticisms and natural justice
The large majority of complaints are resolved without deciding whether or not there has been an administrative deficiency on the part of agency officers or more broadly at the agency level. The emphasis of Ombudsman work is on achieving remedies for complainants and on improving public administration. On occasion investigation of a complaint will lead to criticisms of a person and/or agency, and possibly a finding of administrative deficiency.
Under the Ombudsman Act, if a person and/or agency is implicitly or explicitly criticised, the person and/or agency must be given the opportunity to comment under natural justice principles - that is, to make a submission on the potential criticism before the Ombudsman finalises his or her views about the matter (s 8(5)). Ombudsman office staff refer to this as a ‘section 8(5) opportunity’.
When a section 8(5) opportunity is provided, the person and/or agency is given written comments and invited to make an oral or written submission within a particular timeframe. The comments are provided to the person and/or agency in an email, a letter or a (part of a) draft formal report, depending on the nature of the issues being discussed. The Ombudsman will then take the comments into account when finalising their views. If a section 8(5) opportunity is provided, the Ombudsman must advise the Minister of the matter being investigated, if this has not already happened.
Remedies, suggestions and systemic issues
When an investigation establishes that an error has occurred (regardless of whether it is considered an administrative deficiency), the investigation officer will consider whether there is appropriate action the agency could take to remedy the problem. This could be a remedy for the complainant, and, if the problem appears to be broader, other remedial action (for example, a change to agency policy or procedures).
When considering the range of possible remedies for the complainant, the investigation officer will take into account issues such as:
- what is the complainant seeking and what is the range of remedies that are reasonable in the circumstances?
- has the agency made any offers of settlement or remedy?
- is there a better remedy available through another mechanism - for example, through a merits review tribunal?
The general principle is that a remedy offered should put the person in the position they would have been if no error occurred, and, if this is not possible, they should be appropriately compensated. Appropriate compensation does not necessarily mean financial compensation - for example, the agency may agree to consider a fresh application from a person for a particular benefit or concession and waive some or all of the application fees that may apply. In addition, as a matter of general courtesy and good public administration, if an error has occurred it is reasonable for the person to be given an explanation and an apology.
In some cases a systemic issue may have been identified as the cause, or part of the cause, of the problem. For example, there may have been a problem with the agency policy, or the agency staff may not have been provided with adequate training in relation to the subject matter of the complaint. In these cases, broader remedial action may be proposed.
Some investigations reveal that a problem that has been raised by an individual complainant may have also affected other people. In these circumstances, we expect the agency to identify if other people have been affected and rectify the situation for those individuals as well, wherever possible. This proactive work can help ameliorate or prevent further distress to individuals, and reduce the possibility of further complaints to the Ombudsman or through other avenues, such as to Ministers.
Similarly, where a complaint has already been dealt with by an agency, and then a different outcome is achieved through an Ombudsman investigation, it is good practice for the agency to consider why the matter was not resolved satisfactorily through the internal consideration.
Concluding an investigation
When an investigation officer decides not to investigate a complaint further, either because an appropriate remedy has been provided or offered, or further investigation is not warranted, the officer will advise the complainant of their intention and their reasons. Consistent with the principles of good administration, the complainant is usually given an opportunity to respond and to submit any further information or arguments.
The investigation officer may advise the complainant of their intention to cease investigation by telephone or in writing. The complainant’s reasonable opportunity to respond may occur in the same telephone call. However, if advice is provided to a complainant in writing, in general they are given 28 days to respond.
Following this process, and any further investigation that may result from consideration of the complainant’s comments, the investigation officer will close the investigation, and advise the agency.
Complaints about the Ombudsman’s office
People have the right to complain about our general service delivery, and about decisions made on their complaint (for example, a decision not to investigate or not to investigate further). Where people request a review of a decision on their complaint, the Ombudsman’s internal review process provides for a fresh evaluation of the decision. All requests for review are considered by a Deputy Ombudsman, who oversees a review panel comprising designated review officers. If the Deputy Ombudsman agrees that a review should be conducted, they will allocate the review to one of the panel members who is more senior than the original investigation officer and who was not involved in handling the complaint.
The review is not a re-investigation of the complaint, but establishes whether the process used by the investigation officer was adequate (for example, was adequate information gathered and were the issues analysed in appropriate depth?) and the merit of the investigation officer’s conclusions (that is, were they reasonable, properly explained and justified?).
A review may result in one of the following four outcomes:
- the original conclusion was wrong and a new conclusion can be reached without further investigation
- the complaint should be re-opened and re-investigated (this may cover the whole complaint or only some aspects of the complaint)
- the original decision is affirmed and the complaint does not merit further attention from our office
- there was an error of fact which requires acknowledgement or explanation, but it does not impact on the original outcome, which is affirmed.
If a complaint is re-opened for re-investigation, the new investigation officer will inform the agency and the investigation will proceed as outlined above.
If you would like more information about the work of the Ombudsman’s office, or a more detailed briefing for agency staff, please contact us.