Find out the answers to common questions we are asked.

  • Complaints and investigations
  • Freedom of information
  • Return to work.

Complaints and investigations

Anyone (including an individual, group or organisation) who is directly affected by an agency’s acts can make a complaint. An ‘act’ includes a failure to act.

If you are unable to make a complaint yourself, a representative (e.g. relative or carer, solicitor or Member of Parliament) may be able to assist you.

Nothing. There is no cost to make a complaint.

Yes. You can make a complaint without disclosing who you are. However, if we do not have your contact details, we will not be able to seek further information from you or let you know the outcome of our assessment.

If you are worried about us disclosing your name or passing on your information to someone else, please let us know.

Some information provided by complainants may be covered by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2018 which includes protections to keep your identity confidential.

A complaint should be made to us within 12 months of the agency’s act (or when you first become aware of that act).

If your complaint is not made in that timeframe, we may not be able to look at it.

Please see our 'What can I complain about?' page.

We expect that you take steps to sort out your issue with the agency before you come to us.

Where possible, you should make a formal complaint to the agency first and allow the agency a reasonable time to respond to you.

We will need the following information to assess your complaint:

  • the name of the agency (e.g. government department, statutory authority, council) your complaint is about
  • a clear outline of your complaint
  • the steps you have taken to sort out the complaint with the agency
  • dates of the agency’s acts that you are concerned about
  • other key dates
  • any documents to support your complaint, such as:
    • emails or letters you have sent the agency
    • any responses you have received from the agency
    • photographs (if you have any)
  • what you are seeking.

We will need the following information to assess your complaint:

  • the name of the agency (e.g. government department, statutory authority, council) your complaint is about
  • a clear outline of your complaint
  • the steps you have taken to sort out the complaint with the agency
  • dates of the agency’s acts that you are concerned about
  • other key dates
  • any documents to support your complaint, such as:
    • emails or letters you have sent the agency
    • any responses you have received from the agency
    • photographs (if you have any)
  • what you are seeking.

In deciding whether an investigation may be in the public interest, we consider the following:

  • does the alleged administrative error amount to a serious failure to meet expected standards of public administration?
  • is the complaint about matters of serious concern and benefit to the public rather than simply an individual’s interest?
  • is there evidence of ongoing systemic failure in public administration?
  • are the circumstances of the complaint likely to arise again?
  • is the complaint about an error of process?
  • is the complaint about failures of ethical and transparent management?
  • does the complaint relate to matters of public safety and security, the economic well-being of South Australia, the protection of public well-being, the protection of human rights or the rights and freedoms of citizens?
  • has the complainant suffered significant personal loss or is the complainant in vulnerable circumstances?
  • would investigation of the complaint be likely to lead to meaningful outcomes for the complainant and/or to the improvement of public administration?
  • has another review body considered the matter or is another body more appropriate for reviewing the matter?
  • what is the likelihood of collecting sufficient evidence to support a finding of administrative error?
  • would investigation of the complaint involve effort and resources that are proportionate to the seriousness of the matter?

Our aim is to be fair and find out the facts. To do so, we may need to contact you to seek further information.

We may make formal or informal enquiries with an agency before deciding whether to go to investigation.

The Ombudsman may also undertake a preliminary investigation before a full investigation.

In investigating a complaint, we may take the following steps:

Response

We usually seek a formal written response, including documents, from an agency. We may also interview witnesses. The way in which a complaint is investigated is a matter for the Ombudsman to decide on a case by case basis.

Decision

Once we have all relevant information, the Ombudsman will provide relevant parties (e.g. the complainant, the agency and other affected parties) with his provisional view (usually set out in a report). Parties are invited to provide comments on the Ombudsman’s provisional view. After the Ombudsman has considered the parties’ comments, he will provide the parties with his final view.

Recommendations

If the Ombudsman thinks that the agency has made an error, the Ombudsman may make recommendations to remedy the error. The Ombudsman will also let the relevant Minister know about the agency’s error and his recommendations.

If an agency does not take reasonable steps to carry out the Ombudsman’s recommendations, the Ombudsman may report the agency to the relevant Minister, the Premier and Parliament.

Publication

If the Ombudsman thinks it is in the public interest, he may publish a decision on the Ombudsman SA website and Austlii. The Ombudsman may also table a report in Parliament.

Please see our 'Complaints about us' page.

The Ombudsman Act 1972 gives the Ombudsman broad powers to investigate complaints.

The Ombudsman or, by delegation, his staff may:

  • determine the procedure to be used in an investigation
  • obtain information held by an agency
  • enter and inspect any item on the premises of an agency.

In addition to these powers to obtain information, the Ombudsman has all of the powers of a Royal Commission, which include the powers to:

  • summons a person to give sworn evidence
  • summons a person or agency to provide documents
  • inspect premises.

In some cases, the Ombudsman can direct an agency not to perform an act for up to 45 days to allow the Ombudsman to undertake an investigation.

We are not controlled by any government body and we act independently.

We can only investigate misconduct or maladministration as defined in the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Act 2012 (ICAC Act) where we have received a referral from the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption (ICAC) to do so. While we also have a separate power to investigate misconduct by elected members of a council, this section only deals with misconduct under the ICAC Act.

Misconduct, maladministration and corruption are defined in section 5 of the ICAC Act.

Under the ICAC Act, misconduct is:

  • contravention of a code of conduct by a public officer (while acting as a public officer), where the contravention would be grounds for disciplinary action
  • or other misconduct of a public officer (while acting as a public officer).

Under the ICAC Act, maladministration is:

  • a public officer’s conduct or
  • a public authority’s practice, policy or procedure
  • that results in:
  • irregular and authorised use of public money or
  • substantial mismanagement of public resources.

Maladministration also includes a public officer’s conduct where there has been substantial mismanagement in or in relation to performance of their official functions.

We cannot investigate corruption.

When we investigate an ICAC referral, we can also investigate whether there has been an administrative error within the meaning of the Ombudsman Act. If there has been error, we can make recommendations to an agency.

Freedom of information

FOI applications can be made to any state government agencies, Ministers, local councils and state universities.

Some agencies are exempt and are listed in Schedule 2 of the Freedom of Information Act 1991 (FOI Act).

State Records provides information about the FOI application process.

Information is available in relation to applying to access records and have documents concerning your personal affairs amended.

Agencies must deal with FOI applications within 30 calendar days of an application being received.

If an agency does not make a determination within 30 days, it is taken to have made a determination refusing access to the requested documents. This is called a deemed refusal.

The principal officer of an agency (which usually means the chief executive officer of an agency) may extend the time for dealing with an FOI application in specific circumstances. Examples may include where there are a large number of documents or where there needs to be consultation with third parties.

Extensions of time are formally made under section 14A of the FOI Act and are subject to external review by this Office. Applicants should be aware that informal extensions of time may affect their right to review by the agency.

There is no power for an agency to extend the time for an application to amend records concerning your personal affairs.

If you are unhappy with an agency’s decision in relation to your FOI application, including if where the agency has not made a decision (known as a deemed refusal), you have 30 days to apply for a review. In most cases you can apply for an internal review to be undertaken by the agency.

Agencies must deal with internal review applications within 14 calendar days of the application being received.

If you are unhappy with the internal review, or the initial decision was made by the agency’s principal officer, you have 30 days to apply to Ombudsman SA for an external review. Alternatively, you may apply to SACAT for a review.

If you believe an agency has failed to identify all of the documents within the scope of your application, you can make a complaint to Ombudsman SA.

Any person who is unhappy with the agency’s internal review may apply for an external review to Ombudsman SA.

If the initial decision was made by the agency’s principal officer (which usually means the chief executive officer of an agency), and you are unhappy with that decision, you may apply for an external review to Ombudsman SA.

This external review is open to any interested parties who the agency consulted with.

Nothing. There is no cost to apply for external review with Ombudsman SA.

Before you start the external review process, you should have the following information:

  • the name of the agency who you lodged your FOI application with
  • the terms of your FOI request
  • the date you lodged your initial application
  • the date of the agency’s initial decision (if one was made)
  • the date you lodged your internal review
  • the date of the internal review decision (if one was made)
  • any reference numbers provided by the agency
  • any supporting documents you may wish to support your application.

The application for external review will be assessed to work out whether it is within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.

We may refuse an external review application if an internal review has not yet been conducted or if the application is made more than 30 days after the internal review decision was made (known as an out of time application).

The Ombudsman may choose to accept an out of time application having regard to:

  • the length of the delay
  • the applicant’s explanation for the delay
  • whether the agency advised the applicant of their external review rights
  • the agency’s views
  • any action taken by the applicant to preserve their review rights
  • the prejudice to the agency if the extension were granted
  • any hardship to the applicant if the extension is refused
  • the merits of the application
  • the public interest.

If the application is assessed as being within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction, we will notify the agency of the external review and ask the agency to provide relevant documents and submissions.

Once we have received the agency’s documents and submissions, the Ombudsman will provide all of the parties with his provisional views. At this stage the Ombudsman will also consult with any interested parties. This includes personal or business affairs of people that are referred to in the documents sought to be released. All of the parties will be given the chance to respond to the provisional determination.

The Ombudsman will consider any submissions received from the parties and either issue a revised provisional determination or a final determination.

Revised provisional determinations are only issued when the Ombudsman’s views have changed substantially and it is necessary to allow the parties another opportunity to respond to those revised views. If the Ombudsman’s views have not changed, or have only changed slightly, a final determination will be issued. This is the end of the external review process.

Ombudsman SA aims to complete all external reviews within four months of receiving an application for external review, however this is a general timeframe only.

Urgent matters, for example external reviews of determinations to extend time in accordance with section 14A of the FOI Act, will be prioritised and dealt with more quickly. Similarly, more complex matters usually take longer.

Parties may apply to the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT) for a review if they are unhappy with the Ombudsman’s determination.

Any party who is aggrieved by the Ombudsman’s final determination has 30 days to apply to the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT) for a review. For this reason, agencies usually hold off providing access to documents until after the review period has lapsed.

If it has been more than 30 days since the Ombudsman issued his final determination and you have not received the relevant documents, you should first contact the agency. If you are unhappy with the response, or do not get a response within 7 days, you can make a complaint to our Office.

Return to work

No. However, but you may have a right of review available to you under section 97 of the Return to Work Act 2014 (RTW Act).

The Ombudsman cannot usually assist you where you have a right of appeal or review to the South Australian Employment Tribunal.

You can complaint to us about a breach of the service standards (Schedule 5 of the RTW Act) by a claims agent or a self-insured employer. Employers Mutual Limited and Gallagher Bassett Services are claims agents for the Return to Work Scheme.

You can complaint to us about acts of RTWSA.

The Ombudsman can review a decision by RTWSA or a self-insured employer about an application to access a worker’s claim file.