Challenging decisions and conduct of government agencies
Overview: Options for challenging government agencies
If a government agency has made a decision about you that you’re unhappy with, you’ll usually have a number of options for challenging the decision:
- Internal reviews – Most agencies will provide you with an opportunity to ask them to reconsider their decision, by getting a supervisor or a different staff member to look at it, before you need to appeal to an independent reviewer outside their organisation.
For example, Work and Income provides first an internal review, and then second a review by a Benefit Review Committee, which consists of two Work and Income staff and one independent community representative (see the chapter “Dealing with Work and Income”), before your challenge goes to an external body. ACC also provides an “administrative review” process before your challenge goes to an external review (see the chapter “Accident compensation”).
- Specialist appeal bodies & commissioners – There will often be a specific appeal or review body for the type of decision you’re unhappy about, one that’s outside and independent of the agency that made it.
For example, if a Work and Income decision hasn’t changed after going through an internal review and a Benefit Review Committee (see the previous bullet point), you can appeal to the Social Security Appeal Authority, an independent tribunal. Similarly, if an ACC administrative review doesn’t change the decision you’re unhappy with, you can (after trying mediation) next ask for an independent review by the organisation FairWay Resolution.
There are also specialist commissioners and authorities for particular issues – for example, the Privacy Commissioner and the Human Rights Commission can receive complaints about a wide range of government departments and other public bodies and officials, as well as private businesses and individuals. (See “Help from officials overseeing specific areas” in this chapter.)
- The Ombudsmen – The Ombudsmen play a general watchdog role over government decisions and behaviour. They answer to Parliament, not the government. Complaining to the Ombudsmen may be an effective option if there’s not a specialist appeal or review body you can go to, or if it’s not the content of a decision you’re unhappy with but instead the process that was followed or the way you were dealt with – for example, if an agency ignored your emails or phone calls about a problem. Although usually the Ombudsmen can only make recommendations rather than binding orders, their recommendations are taken very seriously by government officials and are almost always followed. (See below, “The Ombudsmen: Watchdogs over government”.)
- Going to the courts (“Judicial review”) – Any decision made by a government agency or individual official under a power given by an Act can be challenged in the courts if the decision-maker went outside their legal powers in making the decision. This is called “judicial review”. To do this, you’ll have to go to the High Court. Usually the judge will focus on whether the decision-maker followed the process the law sets down for making the decision. (See, in this chapter, “Going to the courts: ‘Judicial review’”.)