Published on 14 June 2023
Ombudsman Ger Deering has said that it is ‘shameful’ that there is still no suitable government support to help people with disabilities access personal transport. This is despite a commitment from government over ten years ago to develop an appropriate scheme, and reports from two government departments highlighting the need for such supports.
Speaking at the publication of his annual report for 2022, Ger Deering said:
“The manner in which people with disabilities continue to be denied access to personal transport supports is nothing short of shameful. Everyone agrees that something needs to be done but no one seems to be willing to take action”.
Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, there is an onus on the Irish government to provide access to transportation on an equal basis with others to enable people with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in society. The Ombudsman said that the current situation for people with disabilities is unfair and unacceptable.
The Ombudsman referred to issues with three schemes - the Motorised Transport Grant, the Mobility Allowance, and the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers scheme. When Mr Deering’s predecessors as Ombudsman highlighted inequities in the schemes, the response of government was either to discontinue the schemes, or in the case of the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers scheme, to reinforce the inequitable and inadequate eligibility criteria in primary legislation. In addition, the latter scheme has not had an appeals mechanism in place since November 2021.
In 2013, the then government announced that it would introduce an alternative to the Motorised Transport Grant and Mobility Allowance schemes. However, over ten years later nothing has happened. Both the Department of Finance (October 2022), and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (February 2023), have published reports on the issue but there has been no progress.
The Ombudsman said:
“We do not need more committees or reports, we need clear leadership and action. I will continue to highlight this shameful neglect until real progress is achieved.”
The Ombudsman, Ger Deering, said that 2022 saw the highest number of complaints ever received by his Office. There were 4,791 complaints about public service bodies, an increase of over 19% on the 2021 figure. (This increase is primarily a result of the 835 complaints about the Passport Service. Complaints mainly related to delays in processing applications. It is expected that there will be a significant fall-off in such complaints in 2023 as the Passport Office engaged constructively with the Ombudsman’s Office throughout 2022 to help resolve the issues and improve its customer service).
Ger Deering said that complaints about government departments and Offices accounted for the largest number of complaints with 1,842 - an increase of 73% on 2021. This included 853 complaints about the Department of Foreign Affairs (including 835 passport complaints), and 621 complaints about the Department of Social Protection.
There were 1,269 complaints about local authorities (down 2% on 2021) with most relating to housing issues. This included 200 complaints about Dublin City Council, 86 about Limerick City and County Council, and 78 about Cork City Council.
There were 790 complaints about health and social care bodies, with 300 complaints about the HSE, and 104 about Tusla.
The Ombudsman’s Office completed 4,808 complaints – the highest ever in the history of the Office and a 21% increase on the 2021 figure. The Office also responded to 6,710 enquiries (an increase of 9.5%).
The Ombudsman’s annual report for 2022 is available at www.ombudsman.ie
The Ombudsman’s annual report also summarises some of the complaints he upheld in 2022 including:
Car value drops after NCT accidently adds 40,000 km to mileage reading (Page 33)
When Sarah went to sell her car she noticed that the National Car Testing Service had accidentally added over 40,000 km to the odometer reading on her NCT certificate. When she complained to the National Car Testing Service it said it could not change the reading as any errors needed to be brought to its attention at the time of the NCT.
The Ombudsman noted that there were a number of COVID-related restrictions in place at the time of Sarah’s NCT, including encouraging car owners to leave the NCT centre as soon as possible after the test. This meant that Sarah may not have seen notices indicating the NCT’s policy. After the Ombudsman intervened, the NCT apologised for the error and issued a revised NCT certificate with the correct reading.
Department could not find file after €32,000 social welfare overpayment (Page 34)
John complained to the Ombudsman when the Department of Social Protection started to recoup over €32,000 it said it had overpaid him in his Invalidity Pension.
When the Ombudsman asked the Department for evidence of the overpayment the Department said it could not locate John’s file. In an earlier investigation report (‘Fair Recovery’, 2019), the Ombudsman had said that if the Department cannot locate a file, then there is unlikely to be anything to support a decision to recover the overpayment, and there is nothing to support a decision to withhold arrears.
Following discussion with the Ombudsman, the Department agreed to refund the amount John had already repaid. It also confirmed that it would write-off the overpayment.
€32,000 nursing home bill despite being told that costs would be covered (Page 35)
Caroline contacted the Ombudsman when solicitors from her brother’s nursing home sought payment of €32,000 in fees for a seven-month period between her brother being admitted to the home and approval for funding under the Nursing Home Support Scheme (Fair Deal). There was no contract in place for the seven-month period, and Caroline’s family said they were told by the home that the fees would be covered by HSE ‘emergency funding’.
There is a statutory obligation on nursing homes to put in place a contract for residents. In addition, there was no evidence on the nursing home file to suggest that fees were discussed for the period the family were awaiting the approval of the NHSS. In response, the nursing home agreed to waive the €32,000 charge.
ENDAnnual Report 2022