Frequently asked questions
What does the NSW Ombudsman do?
Generally speaking most of our work involves handling or monitoring complaints about NSW public authorities and community service providers. We also oversee child protection allegations about NSW government and certain non-government agencies.
Who can I complain to you about?
You can complain about most NSW and local government agencies, including the NSW Police Force, Community Services NSW, Housing NSW, State Debt Recovery Office, Roads & Maritime, Ageing & Disability, Correctional & Juvenile Justice Centres, Transport NSW, Health NSW and local councils.
We can also handle complaints about non-government community and disability service providers and complaints in relation to the investigation of child protection allegations relating against employees of government agencies and certain non-government agencies (including all schools and child care centres).
From early 2017 oversight of police complaints will be the responsibility of the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission. Click here for more information.
What can’t we investigate?
We cannot investigate private individuals and private companies including
- private individuals and companies (such as banks and telecommunication companies like Telstra, Optus etc)
- most energy and water suppliers.
Please see our useful links to other complaint handling bodies.
Our legislation also limits what matters we can deal with about government and related services. For example we cannot investigate the conduct of:
- the governor, parliament, ministers and Members of Parliament
- courts or court like bodies
- legal advisors acting for public authorities
- individual employment related issues
- trusts and investment funds
- royal commissions
- ICAC, casino control authority, legal services commissioner
Schedule 1 of the Ombudsman Act 1974 provides a full list of excluded conduct and bodies under the Act.
What can I expect from the NSW Ombudsman?
We will treat you in a respectful and professional manner. We will provide an independent and impartial assessment of your complaint, and advice about the options available. We aim to resolve most complaints informally. When we investigate it is confidential, free and prompt, 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 inform you on the progress of your complaint.
Our guarantee of service, vision, mission, purposes and values sets out our standards of service in more detail.
What information do I need to provide?
We need all the information from you that is going to let us understand your complaint and help us decide if we need to take any action. In general we need:
- a covering letter containing:
- copies of any correspondence between you and the agency about the issue you are complaining about
- any other evidence you believe is relevant in support of your complaint, and
- you to tell us new facts when you know or let us know if you no longer want our help.
When can I come in to discuss my complaint?
It is best you call us first on 02 9286 1000 or 1800 451 524 (if you are calling from outside Sydney metro). One of our Inquiries officers will speak with you to work out whether you need to come in, and if you do, when is the best time. Our Inquiries team can also advise you about our jurisdiction and whether you should take any other action before complaining to us.
Once you have made a complaint to us, you will need to contact your case officer if you want to arrange a meeting. The case officer will decide if they need to meet with you about your complaint.
How do you help young people?
Many young people use services that we can take complaints about, like public schools and many community and disability services. Some youth have contact with police and other agencies, like juvenile justice, Roads and Maritime and the State Debt Recovery Office.
Call us to talk about your complaint and we can tell you how we can help you. Sometimes all you need is an explanation, but we can also help you make a complaint.
We usually expect you to try and resolve your issues with the agency before contacting us. If you can’t resolve your complaint by talking with them, then you should write to the head of that agency. Keep a copy of your correspondence. We expect most matters are dealt with within 6 weeks. If you believe for some reason your complaint cannot wait that long, then call our Inquiries team on 9286 1000 or 1800 451 524 (outside metro) to discuss your complaint.
Is there a time frame to lodge a complaint?
There is no statutory timeframe to lodge a complaint. However, it is usually better not to let complaints get too old before following up. The systems and processes that may have led to the problem could have changed in the intervening period. It can also become more difficult to rely upon people’s memories of the events and to find all relevant records. Our Tips for making a complaint brochure includes advice about making complaints.
How long will it take?
We will contact you within 10 business days of receipt of your complaint. From there, many complaints can be dealt with quickly. Some however may take months to investigate properly. We will try to deal with your complaint as quickly as possible and will inform you as we go.
How do we handle CC Correspondence?
Our general approach is to handle it as information for our purpose. That means we will usually make a record of its receipt and reply to the sender as follows:
“I refer to your email/letter of X date addressed to [agency Y] and copying this office/me/officer X in. As your email was not directly addressed to this office, we have assessed it as being for our information only and we will take no other action on it.
Here is a link to/I attach a copy of our published complaint assessment criteria factsheet on the factors we consider in deciding if we will pursue a complaint. Our FAQs on our website also provide more information about our complaint handling practices and expectations of you and us.
Please feel free to call our Inquiries staff between 9am and 4pm Monday to Friday on 1800 451 524 if you have any questions about this reply.”
Can you tell agencies what to do?
No. The Ombudsman cannot order an agency to take a particular action. We can make suggestions to agencies at any time and at the end of an investigation we can make formal recommendations. We work hard to ensure that any suggestions and recommendations we do make are sensible and reasonable, and will address the problems an investigation identifies.
Does the Ombudsman review other agencies’ decisions?
It is not our role to review decisions, however, at times decisions seem so wrong that we might look at how they were made. Generally we will not get involved in a complaint if there is another way to review the decision. Many decisions can be appealed through internal and some by external processes. For example:
- Housing NSW has a two tiered appeal system for many of its decisions; first internally by a different officer, and then externally by the independent Housing Appeals Committee.
- The Land & Environment Court is an appeal avenue for development decisions councils make.
Our Inquiry team on 9286 1000 or 1800 451 524 (for callers from outside Sydney metro) can discuss your complaint.
Can I be victimised if I make a complaint?
It is illegal to take action against someone for making a complaint to the Ombudsman. If you believe you have been victimised for making a complaint, tell us. We take such allegations very seriously.
Can someone complain on my behalf?
Yes, but we will usually ask that you provide your written consent for them to do so. This must happen if you ask a Member of Parliament to complain on your behalf. Without your consent we can only provide the person who has complained on your behalf with information that is not of a personal nature about you. If we do not receive your written consent we will usually correspond directly with you.
Can my complaint be anonymous?
Yes. However we will not normally investigate an anonymous complaint unless it raises a serious matter and there is enough information in the complaint to carry out an investigation.
How much does it cost?
Complaining to the NSW Ombudsman is free.
What does the term Ombudsman mean?
Loosely translated, the term Ombudsman means ‘the citizen’s defender’ or ‘representative of the people’. The term people, however, is a general term and does not refer to any one individual. For a more detailed explanation see our about us page.
What is maladministration?
It is not a simple word and it does not have a simple definition. Please view our fact sheet on maladministration.
How can I find out about your work?
What Ombudsman information can I access?
Our work is subject to strict privacy and secrecy provisions found in the Ombudsman Act (s. 17, s. 31AC, s.34 and s. 35). The Act requires us not to disclose any information obtained by our staff in the course of our work, unless the disclosure is made in certain specific and limited circumstances. However, we will provide complainants with comprehensive reasons for our decision on their complaint.
Information relating to complaint handling, investigative and reporting functions (including any such functions of the Ombudsman under the Community Services (Complaints, Reviews and Monitoring) Act 1993) cannot be accessed under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA Act). This kind of information is referred to as excluded information by the GIPA Act.
If we receive an application for excluded information, we will advise you that your application is invalid. We have no discretion in giving you access to such information. However, you may ask the Information Commissioner or the Administrative Decisions Tribunal to review our decision to ensure that the documents you were requesting were correctly classified.
The information you are seeking may be available from the agency that you had complained about through a GIPA application made directly to them.
You may request access to any other information held by the Ombudsman, such as for example our corporate business information that is not related to our complaint handling and related functions.
If you need access to information we have about a complaint you made, we will be happy to provide you with copies of the information you provided us and our final letter to you.
If you need any more information please contact our Inquiries on 9286 1000 or 1800 451 524 (if you are calling outside the Sydney metro area) and they will direct you to one of our Right to Information Officers.
What if I am unhappy with the Ombudsman’s decision?
You should first call your case officer to discuss your concerns. Hopefully this will resolve your concerns however if not, you can request a review of their decision. Click this link to find out more about how to seek a review of our decision.
Can I give feedback or complain about the Ombudsman?
Yes! We are committed to improving our service to the public and we welcome your views, even if they are critical. We pay close attention to all suggestions and complaints we receive about our service. If you wish to complain about a specific officer, you should ask to speak with their supervisor. If you wish to complain about our office more generally, such as our procedures or policies, then you can do so through our online complaint form, or email us directly.
You can also complain about us to the Committee on the Office of the Ombudsman, the Police Integrity Commission and the Crime Commission. This committee monitors and reviews the Ombudsman's functions. However the committee cannot review our decisions about individual complaints.
We would also like to hear if we did something good. Knowing we are on the right track is just as important as being told when we get things wrong.