The Commonwealth Ombudsman says adherence to the law is not a matter of choice for government agencies. 

In the recently released ‘Room for Improvement’ report, the ombudsman criticised some APS agencies for operating on their interpretations of the law rather than its actual provisions.

“Compliance with the law is not optional: if an agency thinks the law is incorrect, they should seek to have the law changed,” the ombud said.

“Until it is, they are still obliged to follow it.”

Notably, an undisclosed agency failed to follow a law enacted five years ago because it believed the law did not align with its intentions. 

In another instance, an unnamed entity wrongly assumed it did not need to compensate customers who had not filed complaints, thus violating the law. 

In both cases, substantial efforts were required to rectify these errors.

The ombudsman urged agencies to seek legal counsel when uncertain and to take heed of complaints, especially if they highlight potential legal issues.

The report also outlined several recommendations for agencies, including the importance of maintaining comprehensive records, having clear policies and guidelines, prioritising user-centric complaints handling, and ensuring clear communication.