The Office of the Ombudsman says that from 1 July 2017 it will be taking a new approach to how it responds to complaints about delays in making and communicating decisions on requests for official information within the maximum statutory timeframe.
The Official Information Act 1982 and Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 both require an agency or Minister to make and communicate a decision on a request for official information within the statutory time limit of 20 working days.
However, the Office of the Ombudsman says an increasing number of complaints it receives are "delay complaints" about the statutory time limit not being met.
"Our new approach to delay complaints aims to incentivise agencies and Ministers to meet their statutory obligations," it says.
In a guide, Ombudsman's approach to delay complaints, the Office says the key features of the new approach are:
To contact the agency or Minister on receiving a delay complaint, to establish whether there has been a delay. A response will be required within five working days. If the agency or Minister then communicates a decision to the requester before the five days are up, the Ombudsman will decline to investigate. If, however, a decision on the request can't be made within the five days, the Ombudsman will begin an investigation and form a provisional opinion.
Once a provisional opinion has been formed, the agency or Minister has two weeks to comment. If it acknowledges there was a delay and communicates a decision to the requester before the two weeks expires, the Ombudsman will discontinue the investigation. However, if a decision on the request can't be made or communicated within the two weeks, the Ombudsman will form a final opinion and consider making recommendations.