The Ombudsman, Mr Peter Tyndall, today addressed the annual meeting between his Office and the Chief Executives of Ireland’s 31 local authorities.
The Ombudsman set out his Office's experience in dealing with complaints against local government and his Office's development of a complaints handling policy in the nursing homes sector. The Ombudsman also highlighted the legal obligation on all service providers under his jurisdiction to signpost complaints to his Office
The Ombudsman reiterated his approach to attempt to resolve complaints received by his Office against local government and added that his Office only investigates complaints where this is not possible. The Ombudsman said that the annual meeting is an important part of ensuring a good working relationship between his Office and the local government sector.
Mr Tyndall gave a roundup of the provisional statistics for 2015 and said there was no evidence of any systemic issues. The Ombudsman said his Office received 1007 complaints in 2015 about local authorities, which is an increase from 900 in 2014. The main complaint subjects include:
The Ombudsman added that it is no surprise that the counties with the biggest populations received the highest numbers of complaints. In 2015 his Office received 134 complaints against Dublin City Council (93 in 2014), 78 against Cork County Council (58 in 2014) 61 against Cork City Council (40 in 2014) and 56 complaints against Limerick City and County Council (60 in 2014).
The Ombudsman said that the handling of complaints in relation to Non Principal Private Residence (NPPR) charges in particular was an excellent example of joint working between his Office and local authorities and that by working together they had tackled a systemic problem in a joined up way. The Ombudsman and the County and City Management Association (CCMA) agreed criteria for dealing with such cases across all local authorities. The Ombudsman and local authorities have also agreed outcomes on every NPPR case across Ireland and the last 22 of these cases were closed by his Office this year.
Mr Tyndall explained that the new lobbying Register was developed by staff in his Office and that lobbying has been one of the high profile additions to his Office’s work in recent times. The first reporting deadline for those lobbying designated public officials was on 21 January. Those who undertook any lobbying during the period of 1 September – 31 December 2015 were required to register and submit returns of their lobbying activity on the online Register of Lobbying by the deadline.
The Ombudsman added that, as of midnight on 21 January, more than 1,100 organisations and individuals had registered, and 2,550 returns had been submitted to the Register. He stressed that this demonstrates the effectiveness of the publicity and outreach campaign and reflects very well on the staff involved, who were busy fielding questions as the expected last minute flurry was underway. The Ombudsman added that the online register also coped very effectively with the higher volumes of activity as the deadline approached. The information on the website gives a fascinating insight into lobbying in Ireland.
The Ombudsman said that his Office had recently completed a signposting audit of all local authorities’ websites. He said that all but four local authorities have complaints procedures which signpost to the Ombudsman’s Office. The Ombudsman will contact the four local authorities individually. Mr Tyndall added that communication with local authorities via telephone and email contacts are working well.
The Ombudsman talked about introducing a model complaints procedure for all local authorities similar to the recently published model complaints procedure for private nursing homes. Mr Tyndall explained the benefits of having a standard system across local government stating that statistics across all local authorities will be comparable, it will facilitate the development of online training for use across all local authorities and that data will be produced in a way that is easily compatible. The Ombudsman said the development of an interactive form for use on all local authorities’ websites will make it easy for people to send their complaints directly to his Office where complaints are not resolved locally in the first instance.
Mr Tyndall welcomed plans by the CCMA to introduce a new corporate administration working group as a focal group for contact with his Office in future. The Ombudsman said he is looking forward to discussing a model complaints system with local government in the future.
The Ombudsman's full presentation can be viewed below.