Report on public consultation on the Office of the Ombudsman Statement of Strategy 2025

 

Introduction

The Office opened a public consultation process on the development of our Statement of Strategy 2022 -2024 at the end of July.  A public consultation page was published on each of the Office websites on 30th July 2021.  Persons could make their submissions online.  Submissions were also accepted by email or in writing.  A deadline of 10th September 2021 was set for receipt of submissions.  This was subsequently extended to 17th September.  The Office also followed up with a number of bodies who hadn’t initially responded and whom we considered might usefully contribute to the development our Statement of Strategy.

Responses

The online form asked respondents the following questions:

  • Individual Offices previously engaged with
  • What specific activities of the Office bring particular value?
  • Changes in the external environment which will be important in the next 3 years and which should inform the Strategy Statement
  • Strategic actions which should be included and/or prioritised in the Strategy Statement
  • Any other relevant issues

Not all of the above questions were addressed in emailed submissions.

A total of 21 submissions were received (13 online and 8 by email).  Details of those who provided a response are provided at Appendix 1.

Below is a summary of the responses received.  The responses are presented under the headings set out in the online form.

Individual Offices previously engaged with

  • Office of the Ombudsman (18 respondents)
  • OIC (11 respondents)
  • SIPO (6 respondents)
  • CPSA (5 respondents)
  • OCEI (3 respondents)
  • Refcom (1 respondent)
  • 3 respondents didn’t state if they had engaged with any of the offices.

Specific activities which bring value

OTO

  • Independence, transparency, objectivity.
  • Oversight function of the activities and approaches adopted by public bodies.
  • Challenge admin decisions and hold public bodies accountable for poor and excluding actions.
  • Examination and investigation of complaints on behalf of persons; assisting with the resolution of those complaints; and issuing guidance to providers based on learning from complaints.
  • Review of disability services
  • Complaints assist in ensuring a high standard of delivery of service.
  • OTO adds value to the complaints process within nursing homes and provides a clear, independent, fair and transparent route for all involved in seeking resolutions.  It is a useful avenue to direct people to once the internal complaints process has been exhausted.
  • Publication of reports provide a means to learn from the work of the office and complaints shared.  Publication of the Wasted Lives report provides a prime example of the role that research can play in affecting policy change and improving public services in Ireland.  Ombudsman reports are important in raising awareness about gaps in provision and also in driving improvements and continuous learning.
  • Provision of a service that is free, independent, and impartial.  People have support should they feel that they have been unfairly treated.  This support is accessible and not fee-based.
  • OTO provides a means of arbitration, on occasions where all other reasonable avenues have failed to satisfactorily resolve an issue.
  • The published guidelines are useful particularly the guidelines for public service providers such as the model complaints system and policy; the guide to developing a system for complaints; and the guide to good public administration.
  • The publication decisions and network engagement; monthly meetings and weekly emails with decisions are useful.
  • The fact that it is a One-Stop-Shop which allows it to be an external body to resolve issues between the public and local authority.

 OIC/OCEI

  • Appeals of FoI/AIE decisions bring clarity to the decision making processes & procedures of the organisation.
  • Interactions with the OIC have always been constructive and helpful.
  • The OIC allows for external review of appeals of FOI’s and can allow for an impartial view on the availability of records and the reasoning for same.
  • In principle the OIC can bring enormous value by creating a culture of transparency which bolsters a democracy. Presently, in its current state, the OIC does not do this.

CPSA

  • Ongoing engagement with PAS re developments in recruitment and how these can be introduced in line with CPSA Codes.
  • Publications on best practice.  Findings from audits and reviews.  Guidance on how findings can inform practice.
  • Positive engagement re how CPSA and PAS can work together to raise standards in PS recruitment and ensure that all aspects of ED&I (Equality, Diversity & Inclusion)  are considered during recruitment.
  • Ensures that there is a single body which sets out guidelines and codes of practice in relation to public service appointments.

SIPO

  • Particularly valuable in terms of good governance and provides comprehensive guidance on steps required to ensure compliance at an organisational level.
  • Reminder emails which outline deadlines for submissions are valuable along with an email address which can be contacted with any general queries.
  • Allows for an external body to examine and where necessary investigate potential breaches of ethics legislation by Local Authority members and Oireachtas members.

Changes in the external environment which should be taken into account
All Offices

  • Changes in work practices including an increase in digital services for consumers and the potential for increased remote working practices.
  • COVID-19 has changed how we work, how we interact with others and will have a lasting impact on all sectors, most considerably the healthcare sector.
  • The swift and increased use of technology means it is incumbent on all of us to ensure that nobody is left behind. Virtual meetings became the norm during COVID 19 and lots of people/organisations will continue this practice.  It is important to retain the option for traditional communication methods, for persons who do not engage through digital channels.
  • A myriad of responses will need to be available for the range of Office stakeholders. Changes in the public/civil service, for example increase in digital services for consumers and remote working. Increased focus on systems for ensuring privacy and accuracy of personal data.
  • Legislative change will impact on the strategic objectives of government agencies, e.g. Family Justice Reform including the Family Courts Bill.

Ombudsman

  • Reform of the Health services - Sláintecare.  Formation of Regional Health Areas.  Development of a 'Fair deal' for home care.
  • Development of the IHI (Individual Health Identifier) and the increased importance on the transfer of sensitive patient info across hospital and community services.
  • Health services for people with and without disabilities were poor, delayed or non existent during pandemic so more people have deteriorated or will be disabled as a result.
  • An aging population therefore more disabilities.
  • People with long Covid experiencing disabilities for the first time.
  • With the broadening of the responsibility of the DCEDIY (Dept Children, Equality Disability, Integration & Youth) (particularly Disability and SCSA), the onus will be on transparency and equality of resources within and across areas. Public bodies will require more supports to address the range and complexities of the grievances that they are faced with. The role of OTO could be expanded to provide a rapporteur type service to the state, so that the state may better understand the challenges and impediments faced by public bodies and their service users in addressing complaints and concerns.
  • An acknolwedgement that the biggest mortality impact of COVID19 was experienced by older people, especially those in nursing homes.
  • Dept of Education’s National Strategy on Education for Sustainable Development 2030 integrates UN SDG themes and principles across the curriculum at all levels of the education system.  Achievement of the UNs 17 SDGs is a key priority set out in the Programme for Government and the next iteration of the SDG National Implementation Plan is likely to require all Government Departments and Agencies to include a commitment to achieving the SDG 2030 agenda. The aims set out in the current Statement of Strategy appear to be clearly aligned to the SDGs, e.g. SDG 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions and SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities. OTO has a key role to play in providing feedback and views in the development and implementation of these strategies.
  • The development of a regulatory framework for the provision of homecare services and allocation of funding for personal assistance hours, home help and home care packages and additional supports for people with disabilities and older people living in the community may lead to the Office having a role to play in the handling of complaints in respect of such service providers.
  • Commitments in the Programme for Government – the commencement of the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act 2015 and the proposed extension of jurisdiction to clinical decisions made in health settings is likely to have repercussions for the handling of complaints by the Office
  • Evidenced based policymaking - The central importance of influencing practice across services and agencies for Travellers is of fundamental importance to improve Traveller inclusion and defeat inequalities and OTO’s role in this regard, is essential.
  • Lack of Central Oversight of Traveller accommodation
  • Lack of Central Oversight and No Redress of Structural Barriers Including Failure to Spend
  • Overcrowding and neglect - The poor condition of sites must be viewed in the context of overcrowding and the lack of delivery broadly, especially of Groups Housing Schemes, as well as the structural apathy preventing more rigorous maintenance of sites, and deficiency in building quality.

OIC

  • The volume of FOI’s to the Housing Unit (Cork Co Council) has increased exponentially over the last two years, especially since the outbreak of COVID 19.  The amount of time taken to prepare and redact files must be considered in light of this increase.
  • A growing concern about the efficacy of the OIC and a growing disillusionment with the FOI process generally.

CPSA

  • CPSA has a key role in developing and reinforcing standards to ensure a consistent and comprehensive approach across the PS to ED&I.
  • Increased public scrutiny of PS appointments is an opportunity to increase and regularise standards across the PS.
  • Developments in methods (including use of digital) of recruitment and selection.  Need to ensure the Codes can keep pace with this change or that the principles based approach does not restrict use of new approaches which might be best practice in recruitment generally. 
  • Wide consensus on improving diversity in the public service.
  • Need for a consistent approach across the PS in all aspects such as attraction, selection, onboarding and retention.

SIPO

  • Electronic methods for SIPO submissions via a secure portal would be beneficial as the workforce moves towards remote working in the longer term.
  • The lead in to Local Government Elections scheduled for 2024, and a General Election scheduled for 2025 elections will see increased activity in messaging and policy-making by elected members and political parties.
  • The increased use of social media by elected representative and organisations.

Strategic Actions to consider for inclusion in the Statement of Strategy
All Offices

  • Drive/influence improvements in PS Bodies.
  • Enable and support the public service in achieving and maintaining best practice standards.
  • Bring the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into all your actions by becoming inclusive.
  • Technology, further development of human rights.
  • Reference the need to promote a strong culture of remote working without impacting on service delivery levels.
  • Highlight the requirement of succession planning, information transfer and skill development to ensure gaps in organisational capacity are planned for and addressed in a strategic manner.
  • Increase awareness of our roles and how to access our services is an ever increasing challenge for public organisations and the public sector, given the increase in complexity of services being delivered and increasing demands by the public on these services.
  • Address the increased usage of Social Media and other online channels as a communication level and the challenges of addressing the volume of information received through these channels and the associated response requirements by the public.
  • UN SDGs should be considered when drafting the 2022 – 2024 Statement particularly SDG 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions and SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities.
  • GDPR should be an on-going priority for the office.
  • Office Outreach Strategy should seek to develop an agile and innovative approach to its outreach programme.

Ombudsman Office

  • A review of the strategic direction of the health services as envisaged by Sláintecare to ensure the processes in the OTO are prepared.
  • Integration, diversity and consistency in service provision.
  • Engage with PBs to assist them to develop their own strategies for reducing the number of complaints and concerns received. This strategy could focus on assisting PBs to develop annual service improvement planning based on analysis of received founded concerns.
  • Prioritise informing the public and public service providers about the role of the office; the steps to take and routes to follow re making complaints.  Be clear on what types of complaints fall under the remit.
  • Publish statistics for the work of the OTO on the website, perhaps in the form of an accessible ‘data hub’.
  • Provide downloadable reference guides.
  • The Office should continue to focus on enabling and supporting the public sector through sharing learning from its work and the provision of guidance in a sensitive and meaningful way.
  • Ability to share best practice examples, so that LA’s can learn from each other.
  • Future objectives should stress the need for increased communication and awareness raising.
  • Have regard for greater transparency and access to information held by public bodies as evidenced by the increased number of FOI requests and Data Protection requests.
  • A focus on  Public and Private nursing homes should be prioritised.
  • Look at the quality of services provided by HSE.
  • The need to influence improvements in services through the lens of the end user. The promotion of a culture where learning and improvement from service users is embedded in practice, governance and organisational systems.  Design principles should include designing public services around user needs, involving all stakeholders and understanding the customer journey to create flow and efficiency.
  • In order to reduce digital exclusion (and by extension social exclusion), public services must provide multiple options for communication with users.  Options must be adequately resourced and actively promoted.
  • The Office should also seek out appropriate collaboration with stakeholders to improve how public services interact with service users and deal with issues effectively.
  • The extension of jurisdiction of the Office in the exercise of clinical judgement; prison complaints; and the administration of the asylum and immigration process will be important.
  • Consider a thematic focus and committed action toward the adoption of ethnic equality monitoring across the public service, to improve public delivery and efficiencies, ensure equity and budgetary coherence.
  • Specific attention and awareness of the systemic obstacles and inadequacies outlined in government and human rights reports by LAs is centrally understood to the Office’s case work staff in the area.
  • Given the indisputable short comings across LAs in the delivery of Traveller accommodation, the Office would apply its authority to the redress of those in a themed investigation.
  • Staff are trained in Traveller competency and specific case worker leads identified for handling Traveller specific complaints.
  • Greater awareness of OTO’s Outreach Programme to the Traveller community.  Enhanced community and NGO engagement to support communications strategies and deepen community understanding and awareness would be welcome.
  • The current model of data disaggregation noted in OTO’s annual reports collated across service settings, could be adapted to add essential information about Traveller’s experience within those services.  Implement a universal ethnic identifier to include Travellers at collection points.
  • Enhance engagement between OTO and the Traveller sector to ensure obstacles, and emerging matters in the public service can be better served to meet mutual needs.
  • A focus on thematic reports would be considered in line with precedent by the OTO, and that these would be considered in consultation with Traveller organisations.
  • Model and undertake diverse recruitment and consider an internship scheme to include Travellers within the OTO work force.
  • A focus on the intersectionality of Travellers and those with a disability.
  • The Office disability reporting would apply an ethnic identifier.
  • Cohort sampling of Travellers would be undertaken in any future OTO’s reports in the disability area.
  • A specific report on the impact of inadequate accommodation provision for Travellers with a disability would be further considered.

OIC

  • Consideration of a greater focus on informal, amicable resolution at the beginning of an FOI review, could save time for all parties and achieve the desired outcome for the requester in a more efficient way.
  • The OIC needs to be subjected to a yearly random audit by Senior Counsel (as has occurred with the FSO) in order to ensure that it is functioning as it should.

CPSA

  • More face-to-face engagement around standards and best practice.
  • Potentially working with PAS to ensure that required supports are available to PS recruiters and to ensure standards are being adhered to, both through use of networks and best practice supports around training and guidance.
  • Increased auditing of use of recruitment licences in terms of both “order in the market”, approaches taken to recruitment, and the best use of public funds (potentially in conjunction with DPER/C&AG).
  • Move to specialist recruitment to meet needs of both clients and candidates, and ensuring that the Codes allow for this, both from specialist and generalist type campaigns.  A move to increased engagement with potential candidates for specific roles in order to meet expectations based on the external recruitment market may require a review how PS recruitment is conducted and if any changes are needed to respond to the wider market.
  • Engagement with DPER around potential legislative changes needed to reflect the areas identified above and in relation to ED&I related initiatives.
  • Supporting a consistent and comprehensive approach to advancing ED&I across the PS and engaging with DPER & PAS around potential barriers.

Other Issues
All Offices

  • Holding public services to high standards and routine quality checks to ensure standards are maintained and focus on person centred human rights.
  • Promotion of services via the website and online webforms due to remote working and prioritisation of digital services.
  • Processes should be in-camera to aid transparency. The courts have ordered such on the workplace relations. Such a process will aid transparency and accountability.

Ombudsman Office

  • Most statutory definitions or scoping frameworks do not prohibit the resubmission of previous complaints or the submission of complaints already examined by other parties. The concept of estoppel could be considered to prevent resubmission of complaints already closed by the public body or another third party.  Re-examination of closed concerns is a recurrent problem for public bodies.
  • OTO should examine access to services for older people especially within primary care settings, including nursing homes.  Recommendations of the COVID-19 Nursing Homes Expert Panel Report must be considered. Of particular relevance is recommendation 15.5 of the report (regarding full medical card eligibility).
  • Enhanced guidance should be provided to nursing home residents, visitors and providers to ensure the role of the OTO is clearly understood. Informing of the complaints procedure should be adopted by the nursing home under the Care and Welfare Regulations, to ensure appropriate steps are followed when issues of concern arise and OTO is contacted at the appropriate stage.
  • Ensure a consistent approach to Traveller specific complaints brought to the OTO.
  • The criteria of “exhausting all local appeals mechanisms`, is unduly onerous where there are evident systemic failures, especially across LA delivery of Traveller accommodation.
  • Many Citizen Information Service (CIS) clients encounter limitations that seem to be inherent within a complex benefits system.
  • Many of the queries that CIS staff deal with on a daily basis highlight administrative inefficiencies such as duplication of form-filling; same information sought repeatedly, use of a range of different means tests; insufficient and unclear information about decisions; delays in applications, reviews or appeals; a perceived lack of independence and impartiality; poor quality customer service; and poor communication practices.  There is a need for better practices in communicating decisions to applicants and potential applicants and a need for clearer signposting of relevant schemes, payments and of complaints and appeals mechanisms.
  • The online application process is problematic for clients who have broadband limitations, ICT and affordability issues and limited (if any) computer literacy and also for those with poor English language and literacy skills.  When designing and delivering online access, public services need to be cognisant of people who will continue to require assisted digital channels including hard copy benefit application forms and tailored customer supports.
  • Difficulties for clients and CIS staff are compounded in many instances by the nature of customer support that is available from some public services.  A telephone helpline option is not widely or prominently displayed on websites and email support is often limited.
  • Feedback from services shows a need for improvements in the provision of targeted information; responsive communication with service users; greater transparency; better decision-making at first instance; and adequate resourcing of public services and training of staff in quality service delivery and information provision.
  • CIB has received consistent feedback regarding the significant challenges facing people with disabilities and older people in getting supports to live at home (or to transition from a hospital stay to returning home). This includes HSE community-based services and LA grants for housing adaptations.  Such challenges can push older people (and some younger people with disabilities) to access long-term nursing home care.
  • On mobility costs for people with disabilities, feedback continues to point to the gap created for new applicants by the removal of the Mobility Allowance (and the Motorised Transport Grant) in 2013.
  • Some appeals structures, although operating as separate entities, are within the remit of their parent departments despite providing an appeals service decisions of these departments or their agencies.  Effective user-friendly means to address complaints and appeals should be put on a sound footing within all public service organisations. 
  • There should be a strong focus in the new strategy on identifying and pulling together particular trends within the complaints coming into the Office and an identification of any underlying systemic issues that arise.

Ombudsman & OIC

A stronger line of communication with LAs would be of great benefit.  An example might be an annual conference with the LAs so that both structures would have a clear understanding of the processes of the Ombudsman’s Office, the OIC and that of the LAs.

OIC

The enforcement of disclosure via FOI Disclosure Logs is lacking, as FOI officers often publish the logs long in arrears (often quarterly in arrears) and in a summary form without disclosing the full original FOI or the actual documents disclosed.

 

Appendix 1 – Persons/Organisations providing a submission

Dublin City University
Public Appointments Service
Saolta University Healthcare Group
Gary Kearney (Individual)
Olivia Shiel (Individual)
Galway City Council
Higher Education Authority
Tusla
Nursing Homes Ireland
Cork County Council
Department of Education
Irish Prison Service
Residential Tenancies Board
Kerry County Council
Legal Aid Board
Ashley Glover (Individual)
Michelle Strauss (Individual)
Caroline Joyce (Individual)
Irish Traveller Movement
Consumers Association of Ireland
Citizen’s Information Board