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An ombudsman is someone (or a body of people) who investigates complaints about various organisations, usually government agencies or departments. For example, you can make a complaint to the ombudsman in relation to actions and decisions of the government if you think that they are wrong, unjust, unlawful, discriminatory or unfair. There are also some industry-specific ombudsman which deal with complaints about businesses and companies within that industry. For example, this article will explore: 

  • how to make a complaint to the ombudsman;
  • what an ombudsman does;
  • the different types of ombudsman; and
  • why you should make a complaint to the ombudsman. 

How to Make a Complaint

If you have an issue with a government agency or department, or another organisation (such as a telecommunications company), you can easily make a complaint to the relevant ombudsman. Firstly, you will need to work out which ombudsman you should complain to (more details on the different types are provided below).

Complaints can be made online through the relevant website or sometimes via post. For instance, you can find the postal address for each ombudsman on their website. Additionally, it is free to make a complaint, and you can make it anonymously if you wish. However, you should note that the ombudsman will not be able to directly assist you with an anonymous complaint. 

What Does an Ombudsman Do? 

The ombudsman will receive the complaint, assess the merits of the complaint and also advise you of the next steps. For instance, in assessing the complaint, the ombudsman may:

  • ask you for more information concerning the complaint;
  • put you back in touch with the relevant organisation so it can respond to you directly; 
  • ask the relevant organisation to provide extra information to the ombudsman in relation to the complaint; and
  • provide you with some tips for how you might be able to deal with the issue. 

Following an assessment of your complaint, the ombudsman could:

  • provide you with an answer to any questions or queries that formed part of your complaint;
  • explain what happened with the organisation and what the actions/decisions mean;
  • make suggestions to the organisation directly to avoid the same thing happening again to other people;
  • explain to you why it thinks the organisation made the right decision or took the right approach; and
  • if applicable, provide you with options for redress or remedies in relation to the complaint.

What Are the Different Types of Ombudsman?

There are many types of ombudsman in Australia. The Commonwealth Ombudsman deals with complaints concerning Australian (Commonwealth) government departments and agencies, for example, the Australian Department of Health. The Commonwealth Ombudsman can also deal with complaints specifically in relation to:

  • private health insurance;
  • overseas students;
  • Vocational Education & Training (VET) student loans;
  • the postal industry (including Australia Post);
  • the defence force;
  • immigration;
  • the Australian Federal Police; and
  • government departments and agencies of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).

Each state (apart from ACT) also has its own state ombudsman, which deals with complaints in relation to that state’s public sector. 

Additionally, as noted above, some industry ombudsmen deal with complaints in relation to specific industries. For example, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIA) is independent of the industry, the government and consumer organisations and deals with complaints about telephone and internet services. The TIA also has the power to: 

  • decide the resolution of a complaint up to $50,000 (which the relevant company is legally required to follow or implement); and 
  • make recommendations in relation to the resolution of a complaint up to $100,000.

Other industries have commissioners, which serve a similar purpose to ombudsman, for example, the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner.

Why Should I Make a Complaint to an Ombudsman?

Above all, if you feel like you have been treated unfairly by an organisation, or you think a decision made by an organisation is wrong or unjust, making a complaint through the ombudsman can be a very cost-effective way of resolving the issue. For instance, the ombudsman can help you practically resolve your issue by: 

  • providing you advice as to how to respond to the organisation; 
  • explaining reasons why the issue occurred; and
  • in some cases, putting you in touch with the organisation directly to resolve the issue (where it may not have been possible for you to speak with the organisation directly without the assistance of the ombudsman). 

You may not necessarily require an organisation to do anything to remedy your complaint. However, you may wish to make a complaint so that the ombudsman can ensure that the same issues do not arise for other people. 

Key Takeaways

Above all, the ombudsman is there to help you. Moreover, if you make a complaint the ombudsman will assess the merits and advise you of the next steps. For instance, the complaint process is set out on the relevant ombudsman websites: 

If you are not happy with the outcome of a complaint to the ombudsman and would like advice on your alternative options for redress or remedies, contact LegalVision’s dispute resolution lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an ombudsman?

An ombudsman is someone (or a body of people) who investigates complaints about various organisations, usually government agencies or government departments.

What are some of the complaints the Commonwealth Ombudsman deals with?

The Commonwealth Ombudsman deals with complaints concerning Australian (Commonwealth) government departments and agencies. For example, some areas include the vet student loans ombudsman, private health insurance ombudsman, postal industry ombudsman and defence force ombudsman.

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