Recently there has been a lot of media interest about benefits received by Government Ministers.  It is likely that the information about this was obtained using the Official Information Act.  Official Information is information held by government officials and bodies, and you are entitled to this information under the Official Information Act 1982.

Some examples of Official Information include information held by:

  • Government Ministers;
  • Government departments, organisations and state-owned enterprises;
  • The Police;
  • City, District or Regional Councils;
  • School boards of trustees, universities and polytechnics;
  • District health boards.

If you would like to have access to some Official Information, all you have to do is ask for it!  Make sure that you describe what information you want as clearly as possible, because the more specific you are, the more helpful the information you will get.

Here are some things you need to know when requesting information:

  • You can ask for information in writing or orally;
  • You can ask for a copy of information or just to have a look at it;
  • You don’t have to explain why you want the information (but explaining why might help you get the exact information you want);
  • An agency has 20 working days to respond to your request (but they are allowed to take longer if you have requested a large amount of information);
  • Agencies are entitled to require payment of a reasonable charge for supplying you with Official Information, but they should tell you this before they give you the information.  If you don’t think the charge is reasonable then you can complain to an Ombudsman;
  • There are some reasons that your request for Official Information might be denied.  These reasons include:
    • National security;
    • Maintenance of the law;
    • Trade secrets and commercial confidentiality;
    • Personal privacy;
      Legal professional privilege (confidential communications between a lawyer and a client);
    • Health and safety of the public;
    • Effective conduct of the decision making and policy advice processes of government; and
    • The administrative capacity of the organisation concerned.
  • If you are refused information, you must be told why;
  • If you don’t think that there was a good reason for information being refused, you can complain to an Ombudsman.

The whole purpose of this law is to make Official Information available to the public and to make sure that Ministers and government officials are accountable to you.  So if there’s something you’d like to know, just ask!