12 Mar 2013

Ombusdman swamped with complaints

10:03 am on 12 March 2013

The Office of the Ombudsman is struggling to wade through a backlog of thousands of complaints.

In a letter to Radio New Zealand explaining why a particular complaint had not been processed, the Office of the Ombudsman explained that it is not able to investigate all complaints at once because of the number it has already.

The Ombudsman deals with complaints about local and central government conduct and has seen the number of cases increase by 22% in the past year.

In its letter the office said more than 2800 complaints are on its books and of those 450 had not been assigned.

University of Otago law professor Andrew Geddis said people who are trying to hold the Government to account, or get answers to an Official Information Act request, are having lengthy delays in getting their cases resolved.

Professor Geddis said the Canterbury earthquakes have added more complaints, and more people are complaining about general government actions.

He said the Office of the Ombudsman is the busiest it's ever been, but it's funding isn't being increased to keep pace with its workload.

Labour Party spokesperson for open government Claire Curran said government ministers are systematically avoiding questions, refusing to reply to Official Information Act requests, and therefore loading the Ombudsman with more and more work.

Green MP Holly Walker said the Office of the Ombudsman flagged a year ago it was at a crisis point, and the fact that things have only got worse shows it needs to be properly resourced sooner rather than later.

Neither the Government nor the Office of the Obudsman have commented.