Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier is urging both agencies and people requesting official information to act fairly, reasonably and with understanding during the course of the COVID-19 emergency.
Mr Boshier says he recognises central and local government agencies are operating in a rapidly evolving environment.
“I appreciate that the overwhelming majority of public sector workers are working from home and that may be a challenge for agencies when setting priorities and allocating resources.
“The last thing that I want to do is to put unreasonable demands on agencies to meet their Official Information Act (OIA) and Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA) response deadlines. To this end, I will expand and intensify my own efforts to triage complaints in a way which reflects the realities of the present situation. I expect that agencies will continue to keep me informed as to their circumstances so that I can adjust my approach as appropriate.
“I will be taking extenuating circumstances into account when deciding how to deal with complaints about delays or extensions of the timeframes for responses to requests.
"Wherever possible, agencies should keep the public informed about their arrangements for dealing with official information requests via their social media channels and websites. Individual requesters should also be kept up to date about their requests, particularly if there are any unavoidable delays.
“Agencies should bear in mind that requesters may be more amenable to accepting extensions—particularly extensions which seem longer than usual—if they are given a realistic understanding of the competing work pressures or staffing issues which mean the agency is unable to meet the original time limit.
“I don’t want to place any unnecessary burden on agencies or ministers but at the same time, big decisions are being made in the wake of the global outbreak and they must be in a position to respond to requests from the media and others for information about those issues as soon as possible.”