Official Information Act 1982 (OIA)

What is Official Information?

People in New Zealand can request government information (official information) and can expect it to be made available unless there is a good reason to withhold it.

The Official Information Act 1982 (or OIA) enables citizens, permanent residents, visitors to New Zealand, and body corporates registered or with a place of business in New Zealand, to make a request for official information.

The Ministry of Social Development (the Ministry) fully supports the principles and purposes of the OIA which are:

  • to create greater openness and transparency about the plans, work and activities of the Government,
  • to increase the ability of the public to participate in the making and administration of our laws and policies, and
  • to lead to greater accountability in the conduct of public affairs.

Official Information is any information held by the Government, including Ministers of the Crown in their official capacity, government departments and Ministries.

Official Information can include written documents such as reports, memos, letters, notes and emails, materials such as tape recordings, videos or computer records, data about services provided, internal policies or guidelines for decision-making, and reasons for decision made about you.

Before making a request for information

The Ministry is committed to supporting an open and transparent government by making more official information available to the public. We seek to promote good government, openness, and transparency, with the aim of encouraging public trust and confidence in the Ministry’s policies, processes, services, and staff.

The Ministry has a Proactive Release Policy which sets down the principles and processes to be followed when we consider proactively releasing information.

Before making an OIA request, it may be useful to view what information has already been published on the Ministry's website. The Ministry publishes useful information online on a regular basis such as:

Recent responses to OIA requests that have been proactively released on our website can be viewed below:

What type of information does the Ministry hold?

MSD holds the following information:

  • Records and information relating to its function and responsibilities, including the services we deliver to the public and the advice we provide to Ministers. This includes briefings and advice to Ministers, and internal information and records relating to the development and delivery of services and the operation of the Ministry.
  • Administrative information, data and statistics, primarily from our case management systems to enable the Ministry to efficiently budget, plan and administer the welfare system
  • Case-level information about the welfare system and our other programmes and projects to support policy formation, statistics and insights, and research.
  • Statistics and data on our work programme, including income support, housing (emergency housing and public housing register), and StudyLink.

Who can make a request information?

Anyone who is in New Zealand can request official information. New Zealand citizens overseas, and corporate bodies with a place of business in New Zealand can also request information under the OIA.

In order to assist the Ministry and ensure that you receive the correct information, be as specific as you can in identifying the information you want. The information you are requesting must be specified with 'due particularity' meaning that the Ministry must be able to identify the information you have asked for.

Any request that lacks due particularity will not be valid, and if this is the case, we may contact you to clarify your request.

Making an Official Information Request

You do not need to mention the OIA to make a request. Your request should be as clear and specific as you can possibly make it.

You can contact us in a number of ways to request information.

You need to provide:

  • Your name
  • Contact address (email or postal)
  • Details of the information you want
  • Details of the timeframe of the information you want

We may contact you if we need to do so, to understand in more detail what you are looking for.

Can I request information in a specific format?

You can ask for information to be provided to you in a specific format. For example, you can ask for oral information to be provided to you or to review information in person (inspect files). You can also ask for the information to be provided in an electronic or paper format, or for the information to be made available in alternate formats.

If we are unable to provide it in the way you have requested, we will explain why, and you can make a complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman if you are dissatisfied.

What process will be followed when making a decision on my request?

The first thing we will do is acknowledge your request, and let you know when you can expect a response. More information about the timeframes for responding to requests is provided below, under the section: How long will it take to process my request?

If we need any clarifications from you on your request, we will contact you about that too.

If we believe the information you have requested is held by a different agency, or is more closely related to them, we will transfer your request to that agency, and will let you know.

We will find all the information that is related to your request, and we will release the information to you, unless there is a good reason not to. This is called the ‘principle of availability’.

If there are good reasons to withhold or refuse information (see section: Can information be withheld or refused?), we will let you know what those reasons are.

We may also consult with other agencies or people who might be affected by the release of the requested information. If we consult with others, we will let you know that, and we may also need to extend the timeframe of our response to your request.

Do you have to pay?

Not usually but there is a provision for a charge to be made. It must be a reasonable one. We will let you know what the charge is, or give you an estimate, before the information is provided to you.

How long will it take to process my request?

The Ministry will make and communicate a decision on your request as soon as reasonably practicable and no later than 20 working days after it was received (unless an extension is made).

The Ministry may extend the maximum time limit for transferring a request or making a decision and communicating it to you if your request is for a large quantity of information or consultation is needed to make a decision on your request. Any extension must be for a reasonable period of time in the circumstances.

If you decide to amend or clarify your request, the amended or clarified version will be considered to be a new request and the 20 working days will start from the day after this new request is received.

You can see when you may expect a response by using the Office of the Ombudsman Response Calculator.

Data on the number of requests we receive each year and the timeliness of our responses is published here: Official Information Act statistics.

Can information be withheld or refused?

Requests can be refused, or information withheld, but only if a ‘good reason’ exists under the OIA for not providing the information.

Reasons for withholding are specified in the OIA legislation (section 6 and section 9). As part of our decision on your request, we will consider whether there are public interest considerations that mean we should release the information. We will then balance the public interest against the harms that we see from release of the information. If the public interest is greater than the harm, then the information will be released.

If we do not release the full information you have requested, the Ministry will inform you of the reason for the refusal and of your right to ask the Ombudsman to investigate the refusal, if you are not satisfied with the response.

What if I disagree with a decision made on my request?

If you do not receive a response to your request for official information within the statutory time limit, or you are unhappy with the response you receive, you can complain to the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman’s role is to “investigate and review” the agency’s decision (or lack of decision) on your request. This includes looking at:

  • Refusals and deletions
  • Delays and extensions
  • Charges
  • The manner in which information is released
  • Conditions on release.

The Ombudsman can be contacted via their website.

Will my request be published on the Ministry’s website?

We will consider publishing our response to your official information requests where the information is believed to be of interest to the wider public and is suitable for publication more generally.

We will let you know if we intend to publish our response to your request (including any enclosed documents) on our website. Your personal information (for example your name and contact details) and any other information that may identify you, will be removed from the published version.

Previous responses to OIA requests that have been published can be found here: