How will the Plain Language Act 2022 be enforced?

Lynda Harris | June 1, 2023

Watercolour illustration of New Zealand Parliament buildings.

The Plain Language Act 2022 came into effect on 21 April 2023. Beehive illustration by Hellie Hadfield / All rights reserved

In short — it won’t be enforced. The Act does not describe a formal mechanism for enforcement. However, the Act does include an extensive reporting process, which will ensure that it is effective.

All agencies that fall under the Act (‘reporting agencies’) are required to have a Plain Language Officer (PLO). One of the PLO’s key roles is to make sure the agency complies with the Act. This includes reporting every year to the Public Service Commissioner, who in turn reports to the Minister for the Public Service, who will then report to Parliament.

Ideally, agencies will report what they have done to promote, support, and expect plain language, and the immediate and wider impact of these initiatives. Many public servants will be directly involved in reporting. We hope that they, their organisations, and the wider public and media will be inspired by the results they are seeing.

Read more about Plain Language Officers in Part 2 of the Act

Does the Act include penalties for not reporting to the Public Service Commissioner?

The Act does not include penalties for non-compliance. Instead, the Public Service Commission will create a centralised reporting process to make sure all agencies provide the information required.

We understand the Public Service Commission will provide a standard form and will follow up with PLOs to make sure the report is completed.

Does the Act have the same status as other laws if it doesn’t have penalties?

In the sense that it is a law of New Zealand, passed by Royal Assent — yes.

However, the Act places requirements exclusively on government agencies, rather than on other organisations, the private sector, or the public.

As it doesn’t talk about penalties or prosecutions, we see the Plain Language Act 2022 more as an Act of opportunity. The Act sets out foundational requirements, but doesn’t set limits. Agencies have the opportunity to embrace the Spirit of Service. In doing so, they can show that they are helping to create a positive impact in New Zealand by fulfilling the intent — rather than purely the letter — of the new law.

Learn about the Spirit of Service on the Public Service Commission’s website

Read more about the Plain Language Act 2022

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