30/05/2022·2 mins to read
Official Information requests: Chief Ombudsman’s revised approach to delay complaints
The Chief Ombudsman, Peter Boshier, has recently expressed significant concern about delays by public sector agencies and Ministers in responding to requests for official information. Consequently, a revised approach to handling complaints of delay under the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA) and Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 (LGOIMA) will be implemented by the Office of the Ombudsman (Ombudsman) from 1 July 2022.
What is a delay complaint?
A delay complaint is a complaint about the failure of a public sector agency or Minister to make and communicate a decision on a request for official information within the maximum statutory time limit.
What is the current approach of the Ombudsman in dealing with delay complaints?
Since 2017, the Ombudsman has formally investigated complaints of delay by requesters only after the agency or Minister in question has missed multiple opportunities to resolve the matter. This involved the Ombudsman providing agencies or Ministers at least two time-restrained opportunities to respond and resolve the complaint. Guidance on the current approach can be found here.
What will the revised approach involve?
The revised approach will still involve an initial attempt by the Ombudsman to resolve complaints informally. However, where the Ombudsman identifies non-compliance with the statutory time limits for responding to requests, a formal investigation of the complaint will be more likely, together with an opinion on whether there was a delay. The Ombudsman will, where necessary, make and publicly report appropriate recommendations.
The revised approach also applies to official information requests made by the media, regardless of how the request was made.
To ensure transparency and public trust in government processes and actions, the Ombudsman will continue to record and track all delay complaints, and publish (on its website) the number of OIA and LGOIMA delay complaints received and completed on a bi-annual basis.
What does this mean for my workplace?
Review your policies and processes
Now might be a good time to check that you have appropriate policies and processes in place to effectively manage official information requests, and in particular ensure they are still fit for purpose in the current pandemic climate.
Consider resourcing and training
Increased resourcing may be needed to cover the management of information requests, especially considering the uptick in requests. Consider establishing a contingency plan in case resourcing becomes sparse. This is particularly important in light of Covid-19, where staff shortages are more common.
Staff training on handling official information requests may also assist. Such training should ideally be provided before 1 July 2022, and incorporate the Ombudsman’s concerns and revised approach.
Where can I find more information?
Guidance material will be published on the Ombudsman’s website closer to the revised approach coming into effect on 1 July 2022.
If you require assistance with updating and implementing policies and processes, or rolling out training to staff members, please contact us.
Special thanks to Brooke Clifford and Zac Fargher for their assistance in writing this article.
 The maximum time limit under the OIA and LGOIMA is 20 working days or otherwise an extended timeframe - see section 15(1) OIA and section 13(1) LGOIMA). Both sections impose a duty to make decisions on requests “as soon as reasonably practicable”, and in no case later than 20 working days.