An Ombudsman is an independent investigator who:

  • investigates complaints about the administrative acts and decisions of central and local government agencies;
  • investigates complaints about the decisions of Ministers of the Crown and central and local government agencies on requests for official information; and
  • provides information and guidance to employees who wish to report serious wrong-doing in their workplace ("whistle-blowing") and is one of the authorities to whom serious wrong-doing can be reported
  • examines and monitors the treatment of persons detained in
    • prisons;
    • premises approved and agreed under the Immigration Act 1987;
    • health and disability places of detention; and
    • youth justice residences established under section 364 of the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act 1989.

"Central government agencies" include agencies (such as government departments and statutory bodies) responsible for benefit payments, housing, health, immigration, passports, accident compensation, prisons, education, taxation and child support and many others.

"Local government agencies" include agencies (such as regional, city and district councils) responsible for roads, drainage, nuisance, animal control, planning and resource and building consents.

An Ombudsman's investigation is free and is conducted in private.

Ombudsmen Act 1975

Under the Ombudsmen Act 1975 an Ombudsman has the function of investigating any decision or recommendation made, or any act done or omitted, relating to a matter of administration and affecting any person in a personal capacity, in or by any central government department or organisation specified in the Act. An Ombudsman may also investigate any such actions by any committee (other than a committee of the whole) or subcommittee of any local authority or local organisation so specified. In both cases, the power extends to investigating the actions of any officer, employee, or member of any specified department or organisation acting in that capacity.

An Ombudsman's power to conduct an investigation under the Ombudsmen Act 1975 is not affected by any provision in any enactment to the effect that a decision, recommendation, act, or omission proposed to be investigated is to be final, or that no appeal is available, or that no proceeding or decision of the person or organisation in question may be challenged, reviewed, quashed, or called in question.

Interestingly, except on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction, no decision or proceeding of an Ombudsman may be challenged, reviewed, quashed, or called in question in any Court. Further, except in relation to certain offences against the state or corruption offences under the Crimes Act 1961, no criminal or civil proceedings lie against Ombudsmen or their staff in respect of the exercise or intended exercise of their functions, unless bad faith is shown; nor are Ombudsmen or their staff compellable witnesses in relation to anything that comes to their knowledge in the exercise of their functions. Anything said or provided to an Ombudsman in the course of an inquiry or proceeding is privileged in the same manner as in Court proceedings.