Published on 23 May 2022

Complaints to the Ombudsman about public services, such as those provided by government departments, local authorities and the HSE, reached a record high in 2021.

Recently-appointed Ombudsman Ger Deering said that 4,004 complaints were received by his Office - a 17% increase on 2020, and the highest ever in the 38-year history of the Ombudsman.

Speaking today [Wednesday 25 May] at the publication of his annual report for 2021, Ger Deering said that complaints about local authorities accounted for the largest proportion of the increase, with 1,290 complaints - an increase of 45% on 2020.  Complaints mainly related to housing and planning issues.  There were 227 complaints made to the Ombudsman about Dublin City Council, 101 complaints about Cork City Council and 70 about Limerick City and County Council.

There was a 26% increase in complaints about the Health sector (up to 796) which includes the HSE, public hospitals and Tusla.  325 complaints were about HSE services, including 105 complaints about Primary and Community care, and 56 about the Treatment Abroad and Cross Border Directive schemes.  Tusla was the subject of 118 complaints to the Ombudsman. 

Complaints about Government Departments and Offices were down 12% on 2020 (to 1,066).  The highest number of complaints was about the Department of Social Protection (579) but this was down from 735 in 2020.  Complaints about the Department related to the Disability Allowance while 62 were about the Job Seekers Allowance. 

The Ombudsman’s Office completed 3,961 complaints in 2021 (a 13% increase on 2020), and responded to 6,125 enquiries, an increase of 65% on 2020.

Passport Office

The Ombudsman criticised the Passport Service of the Department of Foreign Affairs.  There was a significant increase in complaints about the Department to the Ombudsman in 2021– the bulk of those relating to delays in processing first-time passport applications. The Ombudsman said that he understands that the Passport Service was put under pressure due to the pandemic and surge in applications following Brexit.  However, he said that such delays were not acceptable and that the experience of 2021 should not be repeated. He will continue to monitor the situation. 

The Ombudsman’s annual report for 2021 is available at

Case Summaries

The Ombudsman’s annual report also summarises some of the complaints he upheld in 2021 including:

Nursing Home refuses to respond in writing to family’s complaint about mother who left home (page 33)

When a resident of a private nursing home who had dementia was found nearly 3km from the home, and with facial injuries, her family made a complaint to the home.  However, the nursing home initially refused to discuss the case with the family. While the home subsequently gave a verbal response, the family contacted the Ombudsman when the home refused to respond to their complaint in writing.

The nursing home also initially refused to provide information to the Ombudsman about the incident.  However, following further discussions the Ombudsman was able to investigate the complaint. He discovered that the home had carried out an investigation into the incident but its investigation and response to the family’s complaint was not in accordance with its own complaints policy.  The nursing home wrote to the family apologising for the incident.  Arising from this case and similar incidents, the Ombudsman has contacted the Department of Health with a view to making it a legal requirement for nursing homes to provide written responses to complaints.

Man with two businesses given only one COVID support grant by Council (page 39)

A man complained to the Ombudsman when Tipperary County Council said that his two businesses would be assessed as one for the Government’s COVID-related business ‘Restart’ grants. The Council said that as his two businesses were linked, and shared the same tax number, the man would be entitled to one grant only in respect of his two operations.

The Restart scheme provides that businesses can be entitled to more than one grant if they have separate ‘rated properties’ or ‘operating from a number of properties’.  The Ombudsman noted that the Council had issued separate rate demands in relation to the man’s two businesses and their activities were quite different in nature.  In addition, the businesses were registered separately with the Companies Registration Office.  The Ombudsman asked the Council to review its decision. The Council awarded the man an additional €3,100 in respect of his second business.  

Unfair restriction on travel limit in agriculture scheme (page 37)

A man who ran an animal collection business complained to the Ombudsman when a new condition in an agriculture scheme (Fallen Animal Subsidy scheme) confined the distance animal waste could be carried for rendering to 125km from the business. The man was aware of a cheaper animal renderer just outside the 125km limit.  There was an exemption to the condition where animal collectors did not have access to the services of more than one renderer within the travel limit. However, the man had difficulty obtaining more than one quote in his area and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine refused to grant him an exemption, resulting in a competitive disadvantage to his business.

The Ombudsman agreed with the man and asked the Department to review his case. Following the Ombudsman’s intervention, the Department granted the man an exemption.  It also awarded him €1,000 in recognition of the time and trouble it had taken to resolve his complaint.  

Woman receives €5,000 repayment under cross border treatment scheme after initial refusal by HSE (page 38)

A woman complained to the Ombudsman when her application for reimbursement of medical treatment for her daughter under the Cross Border Directive scheme was refused by the HSE.  The HSE said that the woman had not provided evidence of an out-patient consultation prior to treatment, and there was insufficient proof of payment – both of which are a requirement of the scheme.

When the Ombudsman investigated the case he found that:

  • while a letter from the clinic abroad showing evidence of an out-patient consultation was unsigned, it was dated and contained the address of the clinic;
  • there were discrepancies in some of the invoices from the clinic such as including gross figures rather than the net cost of treatment.  However, after a request from the Ombudsman, the clinic provided the correct invoices;
  • there was proof of a loan taken out by the woman to pay the cost of the treatment and an invoice from the clinic marked ‘paid in full’.

The Ombudsman believed that, taken together, this was sufficient evidence to approve the woman’s application. The HSE reviewed its decision and reimbursed the woman around €5,000 in treatment costs.

More case studies including those relating to local authorities, education and social welfare, are contained in Chapter 4 of the Ombudsman’s annual report 2021.