Government Departments / Agencies / Officials

How to write a letter to the Government

Letters are an important part of government-citizens interactions. However, many people develop anxiety when writing to the government.  One might wish to clarify a specific government regulation, complain about an illegal structure in the neighbourhood, or delay handling a case by another government official. One may also need to respond to letters from government departments where one had a negative experience in the past. There are many cases in which one would need to write to the government, and it is not such a daunting task if you do it right.

In general, you should keep your letter:

  • Clear and Concise – clearly state the purpose of your letter in simple English. Be direct and use as few words as possible. A clear and understandable letter means the administration officials handling your letter are more likely to lend an ear to your request/complaint.

  • Formal and Professional – it is better to type the letter in proper stationery with a professional / business feel. Remember to avoid abbreviations, spell out both words, and avoid informal and slang.

  • Polite and Courteous - be polite and respectful even if you are making a complaint.

1. Who are you writing to?

Before you start your letter, think carefully about the right audience.  Should you be addressing the letter to a government department, agency, or a specific official? Find out the most appropriate government department you should be writing to, instead of writing to the government in general (which is likely to get lost in the bureaucracy). For example, if you seeking to amend certain rules and regulations, it is best to write to the legislator that you have elected.

If you know the person who is in charge of your matter or someone who influences the topic, you should write directly to him/her. If the person has a formal title, use it in addressing him/her - e.g. the honourable MP Smith, otherwise use the usual prefixes - Mr., Mrs., or Ms., followed by the last name. If you do not know who will be in charge, you may want to write to a government department instead, and start with “Dear sir/madam”.

Your letter should start with your name, address, and date, followed by the recipient's name, title, and address. This would make it easier for the recipient to respond.

2. Include a Subject line

Make sure you include your topic in the subject line. The recipient will immediately know the purpose of the letter. You should include any relevant reference no. or case no. (if any) to help the recipient identify your matter. If you are writing about a bill or a law, write it by name or number, and clearly indicate whether you agree or disagree, and why.

3. Introduce yourself

Start your letter with an introduction yourself by clearly stating who you are and what company or organisation you are representing (if relevant). If you are writing as a representative of a business or an organisation, then you need to associate it with your relationship with the organisation or company.

An effective letter would cut to the chase immediately by telling the recipient the purpose of the letter. Summarise what prompted you to write this letter. Clearly state what you want to achieve by sending this letter, whether to make a complaint, suggest amendments to regulations or clarify certain issues, etc.

4. Explanations and Recommendations

Include the key information you want your recipients to know when they receive this letter, and leave out any information that is not directly relevant. Put the most important issue on top and dive into the issue at hand. Explain how the issue affects you and others in your group, then explain your personal position and the reasons for your position. Provide solutions to the issue if possible. Describe what action you would like the recipients to take with your letter.

The following are the main types of letters to the government:

Complaint - If you are writing a complaint, no matter how frustrated you are, be polite and courteous as the recipient is more likely to be more receptive. Be factual (and not emotional) about your complaint, with a specific timeline and supporting documents if necessary. You should also offer some suggestions on how to resolve the issue.

Responding to a Government Notice - You should read the notice from the tax office very carefully and respond accordingly. You should review the information provided by the government and see if there is any error or inaccuracies you would like to dispute. Include the notice you received from the government by copying the notice and as an attachment to your reply. Let them know the date and subject of their letter to you in the first paragraph. Identify the information they are asking for, and provide them with exactly what they have asked for (no more and no less than).

Support or Not Support a Policy - If you are writing to support or not support a policy, it is equally important to let the government know. Determine how the policy will directly affect you or the community where you live (if applicable) and state your professional or personal experience on the subject. If applicable, please explain the benefits of the policy changes. If you write against a policy, consider proposing alternatives.

Change of Law - If you want to advocate for a change of law or regulations, clearly support your position. Do your research and compare the current law in your jurisdiction with other jurisdictions. Make your arguments logically with relevant facts and cases. Include both information that supports your arguments and information that is against your position. Convince the recipient why the supporting arguments would outweigh the opposing arguments.

5. Thank you

Any formal letter should include a thank you letter. Thank the recipient for taking the time to read the letter and consider your thoughts. Express gratitude or praise and explain your reasons for praise or appreciation. If you are expecting a response, let them know that you are looking forward to hearing from the recipient. You may want to ask the recipient to reply to your letter directly, or you may want to make a call.


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