Presentation on Ombudsman Amendment Act 2012

Ombudsman (Amendment) Act 2012
Information Seminars
Twitter: @OfficeOmbudsman
Role of the Ombudsman
Bernadette McNally
The Ombudsman’s Role
• Part of democratic society
• Part of the checks and balances that hold public bodies
• Other than legal routes, last port of call for citizens
• Inquisitorial function, conciliatory versus adversarial approach
Approach to complaints
• Examine if there is maladministration and adverse affect
• If there is:
– determine appropriate redress
– ensure learning and prevent recurrence
• First and foremost a complaint handler but secondary role to
drive improvement in public administration (sometimes
• Not an advocate for either party
This Office
• 92 staff in total, includes Offices of the Ombudsman and
Information Commissioner (and AIEC), Commission for Public
Service Appointments, Secretariat to the Standards in Public
Office Commission (and Referendum Commission)
• Ombudsman staff complement of 45 approx. with variety of
qualifications and experience
• Assign lead people to liaise with each sector
• New Communications and Stakeholder Engagement Unit
Approach to new Bodies in Remit
• 180+ new bodies, existing resources only
• Significant challenges for us
• Focus over next few months on basic research and developing
expertise, populating our knowledge management database
• Build on knowledge when complaints arrive.
Our Expectations
Good local complaint handling
Provide reasonable assistance
Clear, upfront signposting to the Ombudsman
Open communication with us, liaison person(s)
Co-operative/non-adversarial approach, “critical friends”
Shared goals re best use of finite resources and good public
Key Message
• Keep good communication channels open at line level and
senior management level
• Clear and effective escalation pathway
• Shared goals
Ombudsman (Amendment) Act 2012
Information Seminars
Twitter: @OfficeOmbudsman
The Ombudsman Acts
1980 to 2012
Emer Doyle
• The Ombudsman Act 1980 describes the powers of the
Ombudsman as regards the examination and investigation of
• Most recent and significant amendment to this Act contained
in the Ombudsman (Amendment) Act 2012
• Section 4 outlines the functions of the Ombudsman
• The Ombudsman may investigate any action taken by or on
behalf of a reviewable agency in the performance of
administrative functions if that action has resulted in an
adverse affect
In addition the action must or may have been
taken without proper authority
taken on irrelevant grounds
the result of negligence or carelessness
based on erroneous or incomplete information
improperly discriminatory
based on an undesirable administrative practice
a failure to comply with section 4A or
otherwise contrary to fair or sound administration
But the Ombudsman may decide not to investigate if ...
the action complained of is
• trivial and vexatious
• the complainant has insufficient interest
• the complainant has not taken reasonable steps to seek
• satisfactory measures to remedy, mitigate or alter the adverse
affect have been or are proposed to be taken
• Section 4A outlines duty to give reasonable assistance and
guidance to persons in any dealings with the reviewable
• Reasonable assistance includes dealing with persons in a
timely manner and providing information on any rights of
appeal or review
• Section 5 outlines exclusions to the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction
• These include if a person has already initiated court
proceedings or has a right of appeal to another body, national
security, terms and conditions of employment or where a
complaint is not made within 12 months of the action
• But in some cases the Ombudsman may still investigate an
action if it appears to him or her that there are special
circumstances to do so
• For example if a complaint is received outside the 12 month
• Section 6 provides that when the Ombudsman decides to
carry out an investigation he or she must inform both the
complainant and the reviewable agency of the results
• The reviewable agency must be afforded an opportunity to
consider the matter and make representations before any
adverse finding or criticism is made
• Section 6(3) provides that the Ombudsman can make
recommendations to the reviewable agency concerned to
remedy, mitigate and alter the adverse affect
• But also provides that the Ombudsman may make a general
recommendation to other reviewable agencies in similar
• Where it appears to the Ombudsman that a response to a
recommendation is not satisfactory...
• He or she may make a special report on the matter to the
• Section 7 provides that the Ombudsman may require any
person to furnish any information, document or thing that is
relevant to an examination or investigation
• He or she may also summons a person to attend before her to
comply with that requirement
• In the event of non-compliance with this requirement
• Section 7(c) provides that the Ombudsman may apply to the
Circuit Court for an order directing compliance
• Section 8 outlines how an investigation may be conducted
• An investigation by the Ombudsman must be conducted in
• Section 8A provides that the Ombudsman may refer any
question of law arising in an investigation to the High Court
for determination
• Two Schedules to the Act
• Agencies will no longer be listed as being within remit and
• Instead there is the First Schedule Part I and the First Schedule
Part II
• Part I of the First Schedule lists 9 categories of reviewable
• These include government departments, agencies established
under statute, agencies with statutory functions and higher
education institutions in receipt of public funding
• Part II of the First Schedule lists agencies partially within remit
• Ombudsman’s remit or exclusion is specified for each agency
listed in Part II
• Second Schedule lists exempt agencies not subject to the
Ombudsman’s jurisdiction
• Agencies can be added to or deleted from this Schedule by
Ministerial order
The Ombudsman and
The Disability Act 2005
• “the head of the body shall ensure—”
 Access to public buildings [Section 25]
 Access to services, etc. [Section 26]
 Accessibility of services supplied to a public body [Section 27]
 Access to information [Section 28]
 Access to heritage sites [Section 29]
• Where appropriate, comply with the programme of the
measures set out in Sectoral Plans [Sections 31 to 37]
Section 26(2) provides that each public body must have at least
one Access Officer “to provide or arrange for and co-ordinate the
provision of assistance and guidance to persons with disabilities
in accessing its services”
Ensure Access Officers understand their role
Publish the name and contact details for Access
Circulate information about the role of, and contact details for
their Access Officers to all staff
Section 38 provides that a person has the right to make a
complaint to a public body in relation to the failure of the body
to comply with sections 25, 26, 27, 28 or 29
Section 39 (5) provides that Public bodies must publish
procedures in relation to the making and investigation of
... furnish a copy of the report of an investigation of a complaint
to the head of the public body concerned and to the person who
made the complaint
Ombudsman (Amendment) Act 2012
Information Seminars
Twitter: @OfficeOmbudsman
The Ombudsman and
Reviewable Agencies:
How we will work with you
Richie Philpott, Investigator,
Strategic Lead for VECs and Institutes of Technology
Ciara Burns, Investigator,
Strategic Lead for Universities and other Education Bodies
How the Ombudsman works with Reviewable Agencies
Not an advocate for either party
Not a mediator
Inquisitorial rather than adversarial approach
Many complaints resolved informally
Ombudsman may set own procedures – preference for
informal resolution
Office of the Ombudsman: Our Process
Process has 4 stages – corresponding Units at Office
Not every case progresses through every stage
We aim for the earliest resolution possible
Cases Closed at Each Stage
2012 – Including those which had not been to internal appeal
745, 21%
12, 0%
1932, 54%
893, 25%
Cases Closed at Each Stage
2012 – Excluding those which had not been to internal appeal
12, 0%
745, 35%
492, 23%
893, 42%
How the Ombudsman works with Reviewable Agencies
Enquiries Unit:
• General queries (remit etc.)
• Has complaint been through agency’s internal complaints
• Establish that the agency and issue complained of are in remit
• Complaint is registered
• Moves to Assessment Unit
How the Ombudsman works with Reviewable Agencies
Assessment Unit:
First Contact for Reviewable Agencies
• “Triage” system – detailed screening
• Reviewable Agency notified of complaint
• Ombudsman requests report and/or files (3 wk deadline)
(Through Agency’s Ombudsman Liaison Officer)
• Case completed within ASU if issue clear and can be done
quickly (42% closed at this stage in 2012)
• If more complex, caseworker transfers the case to
Examinations Unit
How the Ombudsman works with Reviewable Agencies
Examinations Unit:
• Caseworker works with Reviewable Agency to resolve the case
• Agency should appoint person familiar with issue, at
appropriate level to make decisions on the case
• 35% of cases closed at Examination stage in 2012
• If not resolved, or if issue is systemic, or significant,
Ombudsman may decide to investigate – case moved to
Investigations Unit
How the Ombudsman works with Reviewable Agencies
Investigations Unit:
• Two types of investigation – case-based and own initiative
(S. 4(3))
• Further information gathered if necessary - documents,
reports, interviews (Deadlines set - S.7 applies)
• Formal Process
• Draft report issued to Reviewable Agency for formal
How the Ombudsman works with Reviewable Agencies
Investigations Unit:
• Final report drafted, including recommendations for
redress/remedy where appropriate
• Recommendations are based on findings
• Recommendations not binding, but generally accepted
How the Ombudsman works with Reviewable Agencies
Investigations Unit:
• Ombudsman may:
• Recommend further consideration of the matter
• Recommend that remedy be made (may specify)
• State that reasons for action must be provided
• Request that agency notify her, within a specified
time, of action taken
• Make general recommendations
• Once Reviewable Agency’s response received - Report Published
• Reviewable Agency is named, Officials referred to
How the Ombudsman works with Reviewable Agencies
Report sent to:
• The complainant
• The relevant “parent Department” (where applicable)
• Any other person alleged to have taken the action complained of
• Any other person the Ombudsman sees fit
If measures for redress taken by Reviewable Agency not satisfactory,
Ombudsman may make special report to Oireachtas – PSOP
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight
and Petitions (PSOP)
• Established under Programme for Government
Committee would, inter alia, be
“a formal channel of consultation and collaboration between the Oireachtas
and the Ombudsman, responsible for receiving and debating her annual and
special reports and for ensuring that her criticisms and recommendations
are acted upon”.
(Minister Brendan Howlin, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform,
speaking in the Oireachtas, 7 October 2012)
Will not re-examine cases already decided upon by the Ombudsman
Will refer new complaints relating to matters falling under the jurisdiction of
the Ombudsman to her Office
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight
and Petitions (PSOP)
• Ombudsman’s first appearance on 20 July 2011 (general presentation)
• 10 October 2012 appeared to discuss the Ombudsman (Amendment)
Bill and her 2011 Annual Report
• 6 December 2012 the Ombudsman discussed two special reports
published when Minister for Health rejected recommendations made
following investigations into the Mobility Allowance Scheme and the
Motorised Transport Grant Scheme
• As a consequence the Minister has been called before the Committee
to discuss the matter further (Feb 2013)
Common Complaints across Reviewable Agencies
Failure to respond
Poor communication
Poor treatment (Care and Treatment Cases)
Denial of entitlement (payment) on means or other grounds
Denial of entitlement (service) medical or other grounds
Inconsistent implementation of scheme/policy
Lack of fair procedures
Reducing, and Responding to Complaints
• Clear communication is key
• Have procedures and follow them
• Learn from your own experience
– Are there systemic issues?
• Various Ombudsman Reports on Standards of Complainthandling
• Useful SPSO Website:
Principles of good administration
Complaint handling systems
Paddy Walsh
Principles of good administration
Principles of good administration
There are 6 basic rules:
1. Get it right
2. Be customer oriented
3. Be open and accountable
4. Act fairly and proportionately
5. Deal with errors effectively
6. Seek continuous improvement
Rule 1 - Get it right
This can be achieved by:
I. Acting in accordance with the law, policy and guidance
II. Taking proper account of established good practice
III. Providing effective services - trained and competent staff
IV. Taking reasonable decisions - relevant considerations
V. Avoiding undue delay
Rule 2 - Be customer oriented
This can be achieved by:
I. Ensuring people can access services easily.
II. Informing customers what they can expect
III. Keeping to commitments
IV. Dealing with people helpfully, promptly and sensitively
V. Responding to customers’ needs flexibly
Rule 3 - Be open and accountable
This can be achieved by:
I. Being open and clear about policies and procedures
II. Giving reasons for decisions – state criteria
III. Keeping proper and appropriate records
IV. Taking responsibility for your actions
Rule 4 - Act fairly and proportionately
This can be achieved by:
I. Treating people impartially, with respect and courtesy
II. Avoiding unfair discrimination or prejudice, and ensuring no
conflict of interests
III. Dealing with people and issues objectively and consistently
IV. Ensuring that decisions and actions are proportionate,
appropriate and fair
V. Ensuring that rules are applied equitably
Rule 5 - Deal with errors effectively
This can be achieved by:
I. Acknowledging mistakes and apologising where appropriate
II. Putting mistakes right quickly and effectively
III. Providing clear and timely information on how and when to
appeal or complain
IV. Operating an effective complaints procedure, which includes
offering a fair and appropriate remedy when a complaint is
Rule 6 - Seek continuous improvement
This can be achieved by:
I. Reviewing policies and procedures regularly to ensure they
are effective
II. Asking for feedback and using it to improve services and
III. Ensuring that the public body learns lessons from
complaints and uses these to improve services and
IV. Identifying systemic problems and correcting them
Complaint Handling Systems
Complaint handling systems
I will deal with this under 6 headings
Benefits to the body
Key features
Building an effective system
How to examine a complaint
Alternative avenues for dealing with a complaint
How to deal with challenging behaviour
1. Benefits of an efficient
complaint handling system
Provides essential feedback from customers
It’s a quick, cost effective and efficient means of resolving
III. Opportunity to improve customer service
IV. An assurance to customers that their complaints are taken
V. Customers are being treated properly, fairly and impartially
2. Key features of an effective
complaint handling system
Privacy and confidentiality
Refer to Ombudsman
3. Building an effective complaint
handling system
I. Evaluate current policy, resources, procedures and practices
II. Identify any potential areas for improvement
III. Develop a plan of action to improve the current system,
where required
4. How to examine a complaint
Assessment and planning
Information gathering
Making a decision
5. Alternative avenues for dealing
with a complaint
Complainants should try to resolve the complaint with the
public body in the first instance.
II. If you are unable to help, is there another organisation that
may be able to help.
III. Any statutory rights of appeal.
6. How to deal with challenging
Guidelines provided in our booklet
Our own internal policy on this issue is on our website titled:
“Unreasonable Complainant Conduct policy”
Under - About Us – Policies and Strategies
Getting it wrong and putting it right
The general rule of thumb should be to put the person back into
the position he/she would have been in if the public body had
acted properly.
Apologise (grudging apology; fulsome apology)
Explain how things went wrong
When should compensation be paid?
Financial Loss
Loss of purchasing power
Loss of a non-monetary benefit or service
Loss of opportunity
Costs incurred
Time and trouble
Keeping it Right
An effective complaints system:
I. will save the public body time and money in the long run
II. will enhance the quality of service to its clients
III. will have a positive effect on staff morale
IV. will improve the body’s relations with the public
V. will provide useful feedback to the body
VI. will enable it to review procedures and systems which may
be giving rise to complaints
To do before 1 May 2013
• Have internal complaints system in place
• Communicate the complaints system to your staff, including
Ombudsman Role
• Nominate an Ombudsman Liaison Officer
• Inform your client group of right of complaint to the
Ombudsman (website, correspondence etc.)
• Review records management/ information systems to ensure
ease of access to relevant material
Contact Details
Universities & Education bodies other than VECs & ITs Ciara Burns – 01 6395662; [email protected]
VECs & ITs – Richie Philpott – 01 6395648;
[email protected]
Regulatory bodies – Emer Doyle – 01 6395608;
[email protected]
Quasi judicial & other bodies – Paddy Walsh – 01 6395711;
[email protected]
Twitter: @OfficeOmbudsman
Twitter: @officeombudsman
Twitter: @OfficeOmbudsman

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