Greater sophistication needed for information requests to Councils?

At the recent Lexis Nexis Local Government Law Conference, the Office of the Ombudsmen noted that detailed requests for the supply of information by central government agencies were common, but the same degree of detail was often lacking when it came to requests made of local government. It follows that information requests of local government could usefully become more sophisticated given predictions that 70 – 80% of decisions by the new Auckland Council are expected to be made under delegated authority by unelected officials.

The following points were made for information requests under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 (LGOIMA):

  • Requests must be made with “due particularity”: section 10(2)
  • While Council’s have a default response period of 20 working days, the Act provides for information requests to be made on an urgent basis to shorten the usual response period. Where a request for urgency is made under section 10(3) reasons for the urgency are to be provided. A failure to provide information on an urgent basis could itself be the form of a complaint to the Office of the Ombudsmen.
  • Every local authority has a duty under section 11 to provide “reasonable assistance”. Under this duty, local authorities can be asked what files are kept, and whether any electronic document management system is searchable, etc. • There is a right of access to copies of internal rules, policies and guidelines affecting decision-making: section 21.
  • When a local authority makes any decision or recommendation in respect of any person, then there is a right of access under section 22 to reasons for that decision.
  • Under section 27 any decision by a local authority to refuse to provide information, or which imposes conditions on the use of that information can be reviewed by the Office of the Ombudsmen.