How do you make a complaint about a public agency?
Before complaining to us, you should make a complaint directly to the agency, giving them a chance to address your concerns. Government agencies should have a process to manage complaints.
Websites are a great source of information. An agencies website will usually have the address of who to write to and how to make a complaint about their service.
We think it is reasonable for an agency to take up to six weeks to respond to complaints. If you do not receive a reply by this time, contact them to ensure they have received your complaint and are going to respond to it. You could also ask them to explain any reasons for their delay.
You can contact us if, after following up with them, the agency:
- does not reply to you and fails to adequately explain the reasons for any delay, or
- replies to you but fails to adequately address your concerns and there is good evidence of wrong conduct.
What happens with my complaint?
Your complaint is assessed by a senior officer and allocated to a case officer. We give priority to serious matters, especially if it is an issue likely to affect other people. If we do not take any action on your complaint we will tell you the reasons why.
Most complaints can be resolved without a formal investigation. Mostly we will phone or write to the agency or person involved and ask for an explanation. Many issues can be satisfactorily dealt with this way.
If we are not satisfied with the agency’s response, we may formally investigate. We will tell you what we propose to do with your complaint. The first step in an investigation is to ask the agency or person concerned to comment on your complaint and explain its actions in writing. We will usually tell you what they say and what we think of their explanation. Some matters are resolved at this stage and the investigation is discontinued.
If the investigation continues, it’s on a more formal basis and it can take several months before it is finalised and a report is issued. You will be told if your complaint is going to be dealt with in this way and what is likely to happen.
We cannot force an agency to comply with our recommendations, but most agencies do accept them. If they don't, we can make a report to Parliament.
Sources of information
Sometimes complaints to us are based on a misunderstanding of the law or the agency’s policies or procedures. Some useful links where you can find out more information about how agencies operate are here:
For information generally about fines, how to request an internal review or elect to go to court and options if you are having difficulty paying a fine including time to pay arrangements and work development orders:
For information including about driver’s license and registrations:
For information about public housing:
For information about public schools including policies and procedures:
- Information in other languages
- Annual report
- State & local government fact sheets
- State & local government guidelines
- Tips for making a complaint