With the recent rise in exemption application numbers, there has also been a corresponding rise in folk who have been asked for additional information by the Ministry (to be expected). I see some common questions around this part of the process, and some recurring concerns.
Let's take a look at some facts and info around this process.
1) Being asked for additional information is quite normal (more on this below).
2) If you are asked for additional information, you have up to 4 weeks (28 calendar days) to provide it, otherwise the application "lapses". Even if the Ministry letter asking for more info doesn't say how long you have, or it gives you a shorter timeframe, they can only lapse if if you have not responded within 4 weeks. Sometimes an office may give you longer - eg 28 working days - and if that's what they put in the letter, that's fine - you have that longer time.
3) A "lapsed" application simply means that the Ministry has not received a response from you, and don't have sufficient information in the original application to satisfy the requirements of an exemption, so it is "declined" on the basis that it has lapsed. Lapsed in this context just means "no longer being continued" ie the application process cannot continue without the additional information, and so it is ended, as the Ministry cannot keep an application open forever.
4) You can ask for additional time if needed. Once they send you that request, the Ministry has no idea whether you're working on it or ignoring them, unless you choose to contact them. If you find you need a bit longer to put the information together, or some life event has got in the way, send them an email and let them know you're working on it but need a bit longer, and politely ask for an extension. Suggest the deadline by which you expect to be able to give them this info. Most Ministry staff are reasonable about this and willing to allow a bit of extra time, within reason.
5) If you don't provide the info by the deadline and your application is lapsed, that does not mean the end of your ability to gain an exemption. In this instance, if you wish to proceed, you can update your application/s to ensure they include the extra info that was asked for, and then resubmit them. They will be treated as new applications (and so must contain all the required parts of any application). Note that this means extra work for the Ministry, as they're having to start the process over, which is why in most instances most regional staff would prefer to give you an extension on receiving the additional info, rather than lapse it and have to start all over when you submit new applications.
Being asked for more info is common & ways to respond
Regardless, being asked for additional information is common (35-39% of applications are asked for more info), and not something to be worried or stressed about - it's just part of the process when required. Any time regional Ministry staff are reviewing an application and believe there is not sufficient information included to satisfy them as to "as regularly and well" they are required to ask the family for additional information. This is a good thing - it means they can't just decline an application without providing an opportunity for the family to answer their questions and supply the missing info.
Different regional offices use different processes to do this - some will call and give you a heads up first, others will just email or write etc. Regardless of how they contact you, know that you are not required to answer questions over the phone, or to meet with them, unless you wish to. You should be provided with their questions in writing, and then have time to think about your responses and put the info together (hence the 4 weeks). If you prefer to explain your thoughts over the phone or in person (once you've thought it through), then you can choose to do that - they will take notes of what you've shared, though I think in writing is usually best, as a paper trail is always helpful, unless you are a person who finds it easier to explain things verbally rather than in writing.
When you are putting together your written response, bear in mind that you do not have to update your original application (though you can if that is easier for you); you can just write up your answers to their questions separately to your original application, and then send that in by email, in the body of the email or as an attachment.
Understanding the questions/getting help
Before you can respond to the Ministry's questions, you need to take a little time to make sure you understand what they are asking. If you're not sure, then consider the following to help:
- At the bottom of the Ministry's homeschooling page, where the application forms can be downloaded, is also their guidance document which seeks to add further clarity around the application requirements. If you haven't previously looked at it, you may wish to.
- My guide to exemption applications can help you understand the requirements of an application, which may help you see what you're missing in the areas the Ministry is asking about.
- Experienced homeschoolers on some of the NZ Facebook pages or in your local regional groups may be able to answer any questions you have and give you some guidance. You can find on the NCHENZ site list of regional support groups and online networks. Just check if anyone offers one-on-one help around your application to make sure they are experienced home educators with recent exemption application experience, to ensure that they properly understand the requirements and how homeschooling works. The application forms and requirements changed in early 2016, so anyone who has not done exemptions since then may not be fully aware of current expectations, and anyone who has not personally homeschooled for a reasonable period of time will not truly understand how it works. You can certainly glean useful info and ideas from a range of sources and perspectives, but at this stage of the process, if you choose to seek specific support, you would be best served by someone with appropriate experience.
- I offer a service to folk in this area - where I would review your application, what the Ministry have asked for, discuss the requirements with you and give you some pointers about things to consider or where to find further info/ideas etc, and then review your draft response to the Ministry and discuss further as needed until you're ready to submit it. I can also refer you to others who can help with this too.
After you submit the additional info
If they are not satisfied as to "as regularly and well", they MAY come back and ask a bit more, though they are not required to. Otherwise, they will decline the application. This also would go through a peer review process first, and must be peer reviewed by a different office before being declined. If you are declined, you can still reapply. For more on this see HERE.