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 come to an Office to discuss my complaint?

Your health matters. During this period of pandemic (Coronavirus/COVID 19) please do not travel to our Offices. To make a complaint we encourage you to use our web form  or if you are unable to use the web form please call us on 1300 362 072.

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?

What happens to my complaint?

This is what you can expect after you lodge your complaint:

Here is some information about each of the three steps. A complaint starts at Step One. At Step One, we consider what you tell us and work out the next steps. Often there are better ways to have your problem answered quickly. If so, we let you know. That is the end of Step One. The next step is Step Two.  Some complaints can reach an outcome more promptly. Other complaints take a bit more time to reach an outcome.  Here is some information about complaints that can reach an outcome more promptly. Sometimes we have everything we need to assess your problem without asking you more questions. We might transfer your complaint back to the agency so it can respond to you directly. We might ask the agency for some simple information about your problem. We might give you some hints and tips on how else to answer your problem. Whatever we decide, we’ll tell you. That is the end of Step Two for complaints that can reach an outcome more quickly. Here is some information about complaints that take a bit more time to reach an outcome. Some matters are more complicated. It might take us more time to consider all the information you’ve given us. We might ask the agency for detailed information about your complaint. This is to determine if your matter was handled correctly. Some very complex matters take longer. If yours is one of these, we’ll keep you updated. That is the end of Step Two for complaints that can reach an outcome more quickly. No matter what happened in Step Two, that is the end of Step Two. The next Step is Step Three. Step Three is the final step. Step Three is the outcome of your complaint. At Step Three, we may:  1)give you an answer to your problem  2)give you a better explanation of what happened and what it means 3)make suggestions to the agency to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen to other people 4)explain why we think the agency got it right. At Step Three, we will: 1)keep you updated, and tell you if things will take longer 2)tell you what we’ve done  3)give you reasons for our actions 4)have another look at our decision, if you think we missed something. This is the end of the description of what you can expect to happen to a complaint lodged with the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

How long will it 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.

We aim to respond to your contact with our Office as quickly as possible. Our response time will vary depending on which of our functions you are using and who your complaint or enquiry is about. And of course, each matter is different, and the timing will depend on the nature and complexity of your matter.

We want to give you an idea of how long it might take for us to deal with your matter. Take a look below.

Complaints about Commonwealth Government agencies

When you complain to us about a Commonwealth government agency, how long it takes will depend on what we can do with your matter.

In many cases, we can quickly give you advice or point you to an avenue that may assist to resolve your matter faster. We aim to give you this advice within 7 days. About 60 per cent of complaints are finalised in this way.

Often, we need to look further into your complaint but can then give you an answer. This might involve getting more information from you or from the agency, or conducting some research. We aim to finalise these cases within 30 days. This means that in total, about 90 per cent of complaints are finalised within 30 days.

Some complaints need a more detailed investigation to seek information from the agency complained about. Investigations usually take up to 90 days, although some are more complex and take longer. We’ll keep you updated if this happens in your case. Overall, 95 per cent of complaints should be finalised within 90 days, and 99 per cent within 12 months.

Private Health Insurance Ombudsman

Enquiries

If you have an enquiry relating to private health insurance in general, you can contact our Office for general advice or you can visit privatehealth.gov.au for more information. We respond to 95 per cent of enquiries within 2 business days.

Complaints

The Commonwealth Ombudsman can deal with complaints from health fund members, health funds, private hospitals or medical practitioners. Complaints must be about a health insurance arrangement. The nature of your complaint will determine how quickly we can finalise your complaint.

We usually do not investigate a complaint until it has been raised with the organisation or provider involved. This gives the organisation or provider an opportunity to solve the matter first.

If your issue hasn’t already been escalated, our usual process is to refer your complaint to the organisation or provider for a quicker response (for complaints about Health Funds, the insurer will contact you within three business days from the time we contact the fund). It’s important that they have an opportunity to review their decision at a higher level, before we proceed with an investigation. Around 70 per cent of complaints received by this Office are finalised within 2 business days.

Some complaints require further investigation which might involve obtaining more information from you, the health insurer, a private hospital or a medical practitioner. We aim to finalise these cases within 30 days. This means in total, about 90 per cent of complaints are finalised within 30 days.

Some complaints need a thorough investigation, seeking detailed information from the organisation concerned. These usually take up to 90 days, although some are more complex and will take longer. We’ll keep you updated if this happens in your case. Overall, 95 per cent of complaints should be finalised within 90 days, and 99 per cent within 12 months.

Overseas Students Ombudsman and VET Student Loans complaints

The Commonwealth Ombudsman can investigate complaints from overseas students about registered private education providers, as well as complaints from domestic students about VET Student Loans training providers. How long it takes us to consider your matter will depend on the steps you have taken to engage with your education provider and the complexity of the issues you have raised.

In many cases we can respond to your complaint quickly without needing to ask for detailed information from your education provider. We may provide you with information about how to escalate your concerns with the education provider or we may refer your complaint directly to the education provider with a request for it to make direct contact with you. In some circumstances, we may make simple inquiries with your education provider to assist with this process. We aim to finalise these cases within 30 days. About 75 per cent of complaints are finalised in this way.

Often complaints require further research and we may need to contact the education provider with additional questions about how it has responded to your grievance. We aim to resolve these complaints within 60 days. About 85 per cent of complaints are finalised within 60 days.

Some complaints need a more thorough investigation. These usually take up to 90 days, although some are more complex and will take longer. We’ll keep you updated if this happens in your case. Overall, 90 per cent within of complaints should be finalised within 90 per cent, and 99 per cent within 12 months.

Postal Industry Ombudsman

When you complain to us about a registered postal provider, including Australia Post, how long it takes will depend on what we can do with your matter.

In many cases we can resolve your complaint quickly without needing to make contact with the postal provider. We may refer your complaint back to the postal operator or suggest a different avenue for you to complain to instead. We aim to respond to these complaints within 7 days. About 65 per cent of complaints are finalised in this way.

Some complaints need further research and we may need to contact the postal operator. We aim to resolve these complaints within 45 days. This means that in total, about 85 per cent of complaints are finalised within 45 days.

Some complaints need a more thorough investigation. These usually take up to 90 days, although some are more complex and will take longer. We’ll keep you updated if this happens in your case. Overall, 95 per cent of complaints should be finalised within 90 days, and 99 per cent within 12 months.

VET FEE-HELP complaints

Due to the large number of VET FEE-HELP complaints, it may take up to 12 months for your complaint to be assessed. We continue our arrangement with the Australian Tax Office (ATO) to enable compulsory student repayments to be deferred. Please read our factsheet for further information.

Defence abuse reports

When you make a report of abuse in Defence, how long the assessment process takes will depend on the nature and extent of the report, and the information provided. It may also depend on which era the abuse occurred in, what service it pertains to, and whether external parties were involved.

Each report is assessed, which requires seeking information from Defence. This part of the process usually takes six to eight weeks, but may extend depending on whether further information is requested. Overall, 80 per cent of assessments should be finalised within six months of the report being allocated to the Assessment Team. If the process is expected to take longer than this, you will be updated by your Liaison Officer.

When you request a review of a jurisdictional decision, or a preliminary view for a recommended reparation payment below the maximum amount, overall, 80 per cent of review requests should be finalised within 12 weeks of the request for review being received. If the process is expected to take longer than this, you will be updated by your Liaison Officer.

Public interest disclosures

We aim to respond to 80 per cent of the inquiries we receive from agencies and potential disclosers about the public interest disclosure (PID) scheme within 7 days. However, it may take us up to 30 days to respond to more complex inquiries.

If an agency requests an extension of time to complete its investigation of a PID, we will decide the request within 10 business days and notify the agency and the discloser of our decision.

We can consider complaints about agencies’ handling of PIDs. We may request information from the complainant or the agency to assist with our assessment of a complaint. We aim to finalise 70 per cent of complaints within 90 days. If we need more information from the agency or the matter is more complex, it may take us longer to finalise a complaint. We expect that 90 per cent of complaints will be finalised within 180 days and 99 per cent within 12 months.

For further information on how long it takes for your complaint, click here.

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

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.