Commonwealth Ombudsman

The Commonwealth Ombudsman can investigate complaints about the administrative actions of Australian Government departments and agencies. The Ombudsman has special responsibilities for complaints relating to the Australian Defence Force, Australian Federal Police, Freedom of Information, Immigration, private education providers for overseas students, Private Health Insurance and Postal Industry as detailed below.

Complaints the Ombudsman can investigate

Australian Government agencies and services

The Ombudsman can investigate complaints about the actions and decisions of Australian Government agencies to see if they are wrong, unjust, unlawful, discriminatory or just plain unfair. He can also investigate complaints about goods and services delivered by contractors for and on behalf of the Australian Government.

Australian Federal Police

You can make a complaint about the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to the Commonwealth Ombudsman or directly to the AFP. The Commonwealth Ombudsman and the AFP's Professional Standards have joint responsibility for handling complaints about the AFP.

Australian Defence Force

Under our legislation the Commonwealth Ombudsman is also the Defence Force Ombudsman. The Ombudsman investigates complaints about the Australian Defence Force (ADF) relating to or arising from present or past service.

Freedom of Information

FOI Complaints from 1 July 2016

From 1 July 2016, the Commonwealth Ombudsman will no longer investigate complaints about actions taken by Australian Government agencies relating to the handling of FOI matters under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (the FOI Act).

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) will resume the investigation of such complaints from 1 July 2016. If you wish to complain about an agency’s processing of your FOI request, please contact the OAIC. Contact details can be found at: https://www.oaic.gov.au/about-us/contact-us

Complaints that are currently being handled by the Commonwealth Ombudsman will remain with the Ombudsman and will not be transferred to the OAIC.

Reviews of FOI decisions

Reviews of FOI decisions by Commonwealth agencies are handled by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (the OAIC) and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (the AAT). Contact information for the OAIC is available at https://www.oaic.gov.au. Contact information for the AAT is available at http://www.aat.gov.au

The ACT Ombudsman handles complaints about the processing of FOI requests by ACT Government agencies.

Immigration

The Commonwealth Ombudsman can investigate complaints about the Department of Immigration and Border Protection in the same way as any other Australian Government department or agency.

The Ombudsman also performs the role of reviewing the cases of people who have been in immigration detention for more than two years.

Postal Industry

The office of Postal Industry Ombudsman (PIO) was established in 2006, within the office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman. The PIO investigates complaints about the provision of a postal service by Australia Post and other registered Private Postal Operators.

Overseas Students

The legal basis for the creation of the Overseas Students Ombudsman (OSO) role within the office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman is the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Legislation Amendment Act 2011, passed by the Australian Parliament on 21 March 2011.

Private Health Insurance

The role of the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman (PHIO) is to protect the interests of people covered by private health insurance.

Tax complaints to the Inspector-General of Taxation

From 1 May 2015, most complaints about the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and the Tax Practitioners Board (TPB) must be directed to the Inspector-General of Taxation (IGT).

The Commonwealth Ombudsman will continue to deal with complaints concerning Freedom of Information (FOI) or Public Interest Disclosures (PID) issues relating to the ATO or TPB.

For more information, or to make a complaint about tax administration action by the ATO or the TPB, visit www.igt.gov.au or call the Inspector-General of Taxation on 1300 448 829.

Frequently asked questions

What can I complain to the Commonwealth Ombudsman about?

The Ombudsman can investigate complaints about actions and decisions of Australian Government agencies to see if they are wrong, unjust, unlawful, discriminatory or just plain unfair. The Ombudsman also seeks remedies for those affected by administrative deficiency, and acts to improve public administration generally.

Can I complain to the Commonwealth Ombudsman about a tax issue?

From 1 May 2015, most complaints about the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and the Tax Practitioners Board (TPB) must be directed to the Inspector-General of Taxation (IGT). Click here for further information

Who can complain to the Ombudsman?

Anyone can make a complaint. If you do not want to make the complaint yourself, you can ask someone else to complain on your behalf.

If you wish to permit another person to complain to the Ombudsman on your behalf, and that person is not your legal guardian or legal representative, you need to give your consent for that person to communicate with the Ombudsman’s office. To do so, you can contact the Ombudsman’s office personally, either by e-mail to ombudsman@ombudsman.gov.au or by letter to GPO Box 442 Canberra ACT 2601. Alternatively you can complete our 'Permission for another person to act on my behalf' form and return it to the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

What does it cost?

The Ombudsman’s services are free.

Can I make an anonymous complaint?

Yes. The Ombudsman accepts anonymous or 'whistleblower' complaints. However, we will not normally investigate unless the complaint raises a serious matter and there is sufficient information in the complaint to enable us to conduct an investigation.

How do I make a complaint?

Making a complaint is simple. You can make a complaint by telephone, in person, in writing, by fax, or using our online complaint form. If you do not speak or write English well, we can arrange for translation and interpreter services. Someone else can make a complaint on your behalf, but we may still need to contact you to get your approval to proceed. Your complaint should include copies of all relevant correspondence with the agency that you are making a complaint about and any reference numbers.

What should I include in my complaint?

Keep it simple and stick to the facts. Be as specific as possible about dates, names and other important details. There should be enough information for the Ombudsman to understand the circumstances of your complaint and decide how to deal with it. When writing your complaint, think about:

  • What happened?
  • Where did the events take place?
  • When (time and date)?
  • Who was involved?
  • Were there any witnesses to these events? Have you included their details?
  • Do you have any medical evidence, photographs or documents which may be relevant? If so, you may want to supply copies with your complaint.
  • Have you taken any action already in relation to your complaint? What happened?
  • What action or outcome would you like to see as a result of your complaint?

How long will an investigation take?

We have found that most complaints can be dealt with quickly. Others may take months to investigate properly. In any event, we will try to deal with your complaint as quickly as possible, and to keep you informed of progress.

What happens to my complaint?

We will give your complaint careful consideration. In most cases we will telephone the agency or person involved and ask for an explanation. Most complaints are resolved at this stage. If the complaint raises serious or complex issues, or if we are not satisfied by the agency's initial response, we may undertake further investigation. If there are reasons why we cannot take up your complaint, we will explain them to you.

What happens if there is an investigation?

If the Ombudsman finds your complaint is justified, the conclusions are reported to you and to the agency concerned. The Ombudsman may recommend that the agency should reconsider or change its action or decision; that a law, rule or procedure should be changed; and/or that the agency should take any other action that is appropriate in the circumstances, for example, paying compensation for financial loss.

The Ombudsman cannot override the decisions of agencies, or compel them to comply with his or her recommendations. However, agencies generally do accept the Ombudsman's recommendations. If they do not, and the Ombudsman considers that it is in the public interest to do so, a formal report can be made to the relevant minister, the Prime Minister, or the Parliament.

What can I expect from the Ombudsman?

Professional and courteous attention, and an independent, impartial assessment of your complaint, and advice about the options available. We will undertake confidential, free and prompt investigations if appropriate, using procedures that are fair to everyone concerned. We will provide clear explanations about what we can and cannot do and for any decision we make. We will keep you informed of the progress of your complaint.

Our Service Charter sets out our standards of service in more detail.

What if I am dissatisfied with the Ombudsman's decision or actions?

Criticisms and compliments are important ways of gaining feedback about our service. We are committed to improving our service to the community, and your views are welcome even if they are critical.

Our investigation

You can discuss the progress of your complaint with the officer conducting the investigation. You are welcome to provide evidence, additional information or your view of the facts and we will give you a full explanation of the decisions that we make and the evidence on which they are based.

Review

If you disagree with our final decision after it is made, you can ask us to review it. A request for review should be made in writing within three months of being told of our decision.

Review information sheet and request form (PDF)

Review information sheet and request form (RTF/Word)

The review will be conducted by a senior officer who was not involved in the original investigation of your complaint. The review will consider:

  • the process adopted by the investigating officer and whether it was fair and adequate to address all the complaint issues you raised
  • the merit of the officer's conclusions and whether they were properly explained to you.

The review officer may:

  • uphold the decision of the original investigation officer
  • change the decision of the original investigation officer
  • send the matter back to the original investigation officer or another officer for further investigation.

We endeavour to complete reviews within thirty days. The review officer will send you a letter advising you of the outcome of the review.

We will only review a matter once.