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Ombudsman focuses on complaints to improve public services for everyone

Office of the Ombudsman Annual Report 2016

Ombudsman Peter Tyndall is working with public service providers to resolve complaints and improve services.  His Office considers complaints from the public about a wide range of public services including those provided by government, health and local authorities.

Speaking at the launch of his Annual Report for 2016 (on 31 May) the Ombudsman highlighted the importance of achieving improvements in public services not only for those who complain to his Office but for many others:

“We work with public service providers to secure results for people who have been unfairly treated.  We address the individual wrongs and stop them from happening in the future to others.  This is the most effective way of improving public services for everyone.”

The Ombudsman examined over 3,000 complaints from the public in 2016 and responded to over 1,700 enquires.  1,120 complaints about Government Departments/Offices were examined, 841 against local authorities, and 625 against the HSE and social care services.

Reasonable Accommodations at Certified Examinations (RACE) scheme

The RACE scheme was among the areas which saw improvements as a result of complaints to the Ombudsman. The scheme helps to ensure that students with disabilities are not disadvantaged in state examinations. Following the Ombudsman’s intervention:

  • the RACE application process is now simpler
  • help for those sitting their Leaving certificate is automatically given if they received similar help at Junior certificate level
  • those refused assistance are receiving better explanations for the refusal

Complaints about the Direct Provision system

In April 2017 the Ombudsman received clarification that his Office can accept complaints from people living in Direct Provision accommodation. The move is one which the Ombudsman has long called for.  It means that those in direct provision accommodation centres now have access to an independent complaints procedure.

Ombudsman Peter Tyndall said:

“People living in direct provision centres need to be able to have their complaints considered objectively by an independent process.  The consideration of residents' unresolved complaints by my Office will help to ensure that those services are delivered to the highest standard possible.  My staff have already met with residents and centre managers across the country and they very much welcome this development”.

Investigations

In 2016 the Ombudsman initiated investigations into:

  • How TUSLA is handling complaints and the lessons from complaints received by his Office
  • The administration of the ‘Magdalen laundry’ redress scheme
  • The HSE’s administration of the Treatment Abroad scheme.

The results of the investigations will be published in 2017.

Outreach - Making it easier to complain around the country

The Ombudsman is keen to make it easier for people to bring their complaint about public services to his Office.  Staff from the Office host a one-day complaints and advice clinic every month in Limerick, Cork and Galway.  In 2016 the Office also held a regional event in Tralee, County Kerry.  Staff were available to take complaints and the Ombudsman met with local service providers and public representatives to highlight how complaints can improve public services.

Case Studies

The Ombudsman also described some of the cases his Office dealt with in 2016:

Case Study 1: Department changes its mind four years after accepting €18,000 grant application (Page 23)

The Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry initially approved a man’s application for a grant under the Reconstitution/Forest scheme but changed its mind four years later.  The man had spent €18,255 on replanting a forest.  The Department said that the man had not mentioned in his application that the forest had previously been damaged by fire – contrary to the conditions of the scheme.  However the Ombudsman upheld the man’s complaint when he provided evidence that he had mentioned the fire and had submitted a fire-damage report from An Garda Síochána. 

Case Study 2: Student’s step-father not given equal treatment in grant scheme (Page 33)

A student complained to the Ombudsman when her application for a means-tested student grant was refused by Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI). Among the criteria for receiving the grant was that the student’s “parent or guardian” is receiving a social welfare payment. In this case the student’s step-father was receiving a social welfare payment.  However SUSI refused the application as “step-father” was not included in the definition of “parent or guardian” in SUSI‘s legislation.

The Ombudsman believed that the student was being treated unfairly as the scheme is aimed at supporting students on low incomes.   The Ombudsman highlighted the issue to the Department of Education and Skills which has since amended the legislation.  The student was awarded a payment of €2,890.

Case Study 3: Series of errors in hospital’s treatment of new mother (Page 27)

A woman who had recently given birth at the Midland Regional Hospital Mullingar was suffering from bleeding and ongoing pain.  After the hospital carried out an ultrasound scan she was not contacted by the hospital and subsequently had to attend the Emergency Department.  The woman complained that she never received a follow-up appointment, that a discharge summary was never sent to her GP and that she was never informed that she could bring her new-born baby with her to the hospital.

The hospital apologised to the woman and:

  • revised its process for issuing discharge letters
  • improved its digital radiology system
  • introduced a ‘Birth Afterthoughts’ service where new mothers can discuss any issues of concern.

Case Study 4: Woman’s €20,000 social welfare bill turns into a refund (Page 26)

A woman complained to the Ombudsman when the Department of Social Protection told her that she had been overpaid €19,900 in social welfare payments.  When her case was reviewed it emerged that her income had been miscalculated, and the Department had failed to take account of an illness that reduced her husband’s income.  It emerged that the woman had not been overpaid and was actually due a refund of €700.

The Ombudsman’s Annual Report for 2016 is available at www.ombudsman.ie

END

For Media Enquiries:

David Nutley
Communications
Office of the Ombudsman
18 Lower Leeson Street
Dublin 2
Phone:   01 639 5610 or 086 023 1420
Email:  david.nutley@ombudsman.ie
Web:     www.ombudsman.ie
Twitter: @officeombudsman