Is there any way in law to force WINZ to improve their services?

Question Details: We have been awaiting a decision from Work and Income. It has been 4 months now. They do not call us, send letters, return our calls or answer messages. They have refused to update us with the status of our application, or tell us when we can expect an answer or payment. Also if we have an office appointment they refuse to answer any of our questions. Is there any way to use the law to force them to improve their communication and processing of clients' applications?

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Answers by Lawyers

Community Law Wellington & Hutt Valley

Work and Income has a complaints process that you can look at by clicking here: www.workandincome.govt.nz.
Work and Income can review decisions that have been made, or try to resolve a complaint you have about the service you have received.
Work and Income notes that if they can't resolve your issue, you can contact:
- your local Member of Parliament
- the Minister of Social Development and Employment
- the Ombudsman
- or the Privacy Commissioner.

These options are outlined blow.

Your local MP's office may be able to connect you with an advocacy service, or your MP may be able to take your feedback to the Minister.

You are also able to write to the Minister directly, who may also refer you to someone within the Ministry of Social Development or at Work and Income who can help. They will also note the feedback you have provided about your experience.

You can also make a complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman. The Office of the Ombudsman handles complaints against government agencies and undertakes investigations and inspections. They also encourage good administration by giving feedback and training to agencies. The website notes that before making a complaint to the Ombudsman, you should try to resolve the complaint with Work and Income first. The Ombudsman has a fact sheet about Work and Income and what they can investigate, you can find the factsheet here: www.ombudsman.parliament.nz. It is important to note that the Ombudsman can't investigate decisions like whether a grant or a benefit or allowance should be made. However, they can investigate the issues of delay and lack of communication.

You can also get information that an agency holds about you under the Privacy Act. You can also ask for information to be corrected to make sure it is accurate, up to date, complete, and not misleading. There are a number of reasons for withholding information, which include:
- where releasing it could endanger someone's safety
- because it is "evaluative material" - which means material including opinions that relate to employment
- where releasing it might prejudice maintenance of the law (like the investigation of an offence).

If Work and Income is not willing to let you access or correct your information without good reason, you can make a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner - the Privacy Commission's website has a flowchart to help you decide if that is appropriate privacy.org.nz.

If you need some help dealing with Work and Income, there are beneficiary advocacy services in some areas. In Wellington there is the Benefit Rights Advocacy Service, based across the hall from Community Law at 84 Willis Street. Upper Hutt has B.E.S.T. (Benefit Education Services Trust): www.hvbest.co.nz.

Answered 24 Feb 2013. The IMPORTANT NOTICE below is part of this answer.

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