This article is focused on New Zealand law and explains issues from a Common law perspective.

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How to complain to the NZ Race Relations Office

How do I lodge a complaint?

Every New Zealand person has the legal right not to be discriminated against on the basis of race, colour or ethnic origin. If you believe that you have been discriminated against or insulted on this basis, you may wish to lay a complaint with the Race Relations Office.

You can lodge a complaint either by phoning, or by writing a letter stating the reasons for your complaint, or by visiting one of the three Race Relations Offices directly (see contact details below).

There are no forms to fill in, and there is no charge for making a complaint.

You are able to lodge a complaint even if you are not directly affected by the conduct.

How do I contact the Race Relations Office?

There are three Race Relations Offices, in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Contact details are avaiable through the NZ Human Rights Commission

How will the Race Relations Office deal with my complaint?

The office will first enquire to see if the alleged conduct is within its jurisdiction. This is contained in the HUMAN RIGHTS ACT 1993. If the conduct is within its jurisdiction, the Office will investigate your complaint.

The investigation will be handled by the Complaints Division. Both sides of the case will have an equal opportunity to tell their version of the events. The Complaints Division may also hear from relevant witnesses if it chooses. The Division will compile a report and decide whether the conduct you have complained of was illegal.

Once the decision is made, the Race Relations Office will attempt to arrange a conciliated settlement. Hopefully both parties will be able to agree to the terms, but if not it may be advisable for the parties to go to mediation. The settlement agreement may include:

  • an apology
  • a promise from the other party that the conduct will not happen again
  • payments for compensation or loss of dignity
  • a requirement that the offending party receive education or training on race relations

What if no settlement is reached?

If no settlement is reached, the Race Relations Conciliator may decide to refer the complaint to the Complaints Review Tribunal, which will hear evidence in a process similar to that of a court. The Tribunal may do one or more of the following things:

  • make a declaration that the other party breached the HUMAN RIGHTS ACT 1993
  • make an order restraining the other party from continuing or repeating the conduct complained of
  • award you damages for any financial loss you may have suffered as a result of the conduct complained of
  • award you damages for the loss of any monetary or other benefit that you might have had if it weren't for the conduct
  • award you damages for humiliation, loss of dignity, and injury to feelings
  • order the other party to do specified things to remedy any loss or damage that you have suffered

What if I'm victimised because I made a complaint?

The HUMAN RIGHTS ACT 1993 protects people who are victimised as a result of complaining to or giving information or assistance to the Race Relations Office. Contact the Race Relations Office if you have been victimised or are concerned that you may be.

Cautionary notes
  • If you are concerned that you may be retaliated or discriminated against because you made a complaint, you should inform the Race Relations Office or consult a lawyer. Your lawyer will be able to protect your interests from this type of discrimination in various areas of life, including employment (see How to bring a personal grievance in the Employment Tribunal).

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