20 June 2017
Ombudsman Peter Tyndall received 3,021 complaints about providers of public services last year. The Ombudsman’s annual report for 2017 was published today [Wednesday 20 June] and shows that the sectors that were the most complained about in 2017 were:
The Ombudsman received an increased number of complaints about the local authority sector in 2017. This was as a result of a rise in planning enforcement complaints (114 in 2017 compared with 95 in 2016) and housing cases (379 compared with 364 in 2016).
The Ombudsman also announced today that he will shortly be publishing a report into ‘end of life care’ in Irish hospitals. The report is expected to show the progress that has been made since his commentary on complaints about end of life care - ‘A Good Death’.
The number of complaints about private nursing homes doubled from 30 in 2016 to 63 in 2017. The Ombudsman recently appeared before the Oireachtas Public Petitions Committee to discuss his experience of dealing with nursing home complaints, including those about ‘social’ charges and care in nursing homes. He published a summary of key cases in ‘The Ombudsman’s Nursing Home Casebook’ earlier this year.
The Ombudsman’s report highlights a number of investigations his Office carried out in 2017, including the investigation into the Magdalen ‘restorative justice scheme’.
The Ombudsman said:
“The Minister for Justice and Equality has now accepted all the recommendations in my report including those in relation to women wrongly excluded from the scheme and women who lacked the capacity to fully access it. I will continue to work with the Department to avoid any further delay in providing justice to the women who were so badly treated in the Magdalen laundries.”
The Ombudsman says that up to early 2018 only one investigation recommendation in the 34-year history of the Office had been rejected. This was in respect of the ‘Lost at Sea’ investigation, which involved the refusal to grant replacement fishing capacity to the family of a fisherman who lost his life, along with his son and three other crew members in a tragic accident in 1981. The Ombudsman said he was delighted that, after many years, the recommendations in the report have now been accepted and the family compensated.
In his annual report, the Ombudsman also spoke about his first year of dealing with complaints from asylum seekers and refugees living in the direct provision accommodation system.
“We received 115 complaints from people living in direct provision centres in 2017. Many of these were about transfers to other centres or accommodation issues. We have an ongoing programme of visits to all accommodation centres and resolve many complaints informally on the ground.”
The Ombudsman today also launched a new website for his Office – www.ombudsman.ie – which makes it easier for people to make a complaint to his Office, and provides advice and information to the public and service providers.
A number of complaints the Ombudsman upheld are summarised in his annual report including:
A farmer from Kildare was penalised €27,550 in relation to his Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) payment. The man had changed ownership of lands but did not inform the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which he is supposed to do under the scheme. However, when the Ombudsman examined the case he discovered that the Department had not processed the man’s application correctly. He had not been told of the consequences of not informing the Department about a change in land ownership. The Department apologised and agreed to reissue the payment of €27,550 to the man.
(More details on page 25 of the Ombudsman’s report)
An 18-year-old woman who arrived in Ireland alone applied for asylum as a minor and started her fifth year education in Dublin. She was initially living close to her aunt - her only family member. However, she was then assigned to a direct provision accommodation centre in the south west of Ireland. The manager of the accommodation centre facilitated her travel to the Dublin school and her return at weekends. However, she received a letter from the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) warning her about absences from the centre. RIA disputed that it had issued a letter to the woman and rejected a transfer request from the woman.
The woman was able to show the Ombudsman a copy of the letter from RIA. The Ombudsman believed that RIA’s decision to refuse the transfer request was inconsistent with its policy of keeping residents in accommodation centres close to other family members and facilitating continuity of education.
RIA agreed to review its decision and granted the woman a transfer to a centre within commuting distance of her school and her aunt in Dublin. The Ombudsman’s constructive engagement with RIA has also reduced the number of complaints he has received about transfer requests.
(More details on page 27 of the report)
A woman who had been approved for free student fees by Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) complained to the Ombudsman when Dublin institute of Technology charged her tuition fees for her studies. DIT said that, based on the woman’s permission to remain in the State, it must charge the fees which were in line with guidelines developed by the Higher Education Authority. SUSI told the Ombudsman that it believed the woman was entitled to free tuition fees.
The Ombudsman then contacted the Department of Justice and Equality to clarify the woman’s immigration status. He also pursued the case with the Department of Education and Skills as it had overall responsibility for residency eligibility requirements. The Department of Education and Skills clarified the position with DIT who then approved the woman for free tuition fees.
DIT told the Ombudsman that it will put in place new procedures to ensure similar confusion does not arise in the future.
(More details on page 28 of the report)
A man complained to the Ombudsman on behalf of his parents when their nursing home doubled the charge for its ‘social programme’ from €86 to €173 each per month. A social charge is a charge for providing recreational activities for residents such as creative classes, tours, talks or other entertainment. It is not covered by the Nursing Home Support Scheme (Fair Deal). The charges should be set out and agreed with each resident in their ‘contract for care’.
The nursing home said that the doubling of the charge was necessary as the previous year’s programme ran at a loss and to allow for increased social activities. However, the contract for care listed only an overall charge for ‘entertainment’ and gave no breakdown of the charge.
The Ombudsman considered that the contract did not comply with the regulations; that the contract should set out the content of the social programme; that the residents should have an input into the type of activities in the home; and that residents should be able to opt out of paying for activities that they could not avail of.
In this case the nursing home introduced a more detailed contract; charged only a nominal fee for residents who could not take part in certain activities and arranged for residents input into the design of future programmes.
(More details on page 33 of the report)
A woman complained to the Ombudsman when she experienced delays in regular check-ups for treatment on her feet. The woman was diabetic and there was a risk of amputation of her toes if left unchecked. It had been six months since her last appointment when she complained to the Ombudsman and said she had been told she would not have any appointment for the foreseeable future.
The HSE told the Ombudsman that a failure to update the woman’s computer records after her last assessment resulted in her being classed as a ‘low risk’ patient and therefore not receiving any immediate appointment. The HSE arranged an immediate appointment for the woman and apologised to her for the mix-up.
(More details on page 30 of the report)
More case studies are in Chapter 4 of the Ombudsman’s Annual Report.