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Ombudsman (Amendment) Act 2012 Information Seminars Website:

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Presentation on theme: "Ombudsman (Amendment) Act 2012 Information Seminars Website:"— Presentation transcript:

1 Ombudsman (Amendment) Act 2012 Information Seminars Website:

2 Role of the Ombudsman Bernadette McNally Director-General

3 The Ombudsman’s Role Part of democratic society Part of the checks and balances that hold public bodies accountable Other than legal routes, last port of call for citizens Inquisitorial function, conciliatory versus adversarial approach

4 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 systemically) Not an advocate for either party

5 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

6 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.

7 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 administration

8 Key Message Keep good communication channels open at line level and senior management level Clear and effective escalation pathway Shared goals

9 Ombudsman (Amendment) Act 2012 Information Seminars Website:

10 The Ombudsman Acts 1980 to 2012 Emer Doyle Investigator

11 The Ombudsman Act 1980 describes the powers of the Ombudsman as regards the examination and investigation of complaints Most recent and significant amendment to this Act contained in the Ombudsman (Amendment) Act 2012

12 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

13 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

14 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 redress satisfactory measures to remedy, mitigate or alter the adverse affect have been or are proposed to be taken

15 Section 4A outlines duty to give reasonable assistance and guidance to persons in any dealings with the reviewable agency Reasonable assistance includes dealing with persons in a timely manner and providing information on any rights of appeal or review

16 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 occurring

17 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 limit.

18 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

19 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 terms

20 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 Oireachtas

21 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

22 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

23 Section 8 outlines how an investigation may be conducted An investigation by the Ombudsman must be conducted in private

24 Section 8A provides that the Ombudsman may refer any question of law arising in an investigation to the High Court for determination

25 Two Schedules to the Act Agencies will no longer be listed as being within remit and reviewable Instead there is the First Schedule Part I and the First Schedule Part II

26 Part I of the First Schedule lists 9 categories of reviewable agencies These include government departments, agencies established under statute, agencies with statutory functions and higher education institutions in receipt of public funding

27 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

28 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

29 The Ombudsman and The Disability Act 2005

30 “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]

31 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 Officers Circulate information about the role of, and contact details for their Access Officers to all staff

32 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 complaints... 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

33 Ombudsman (Amendment) Act 2012 Information Seminars Website:

34 The Ombudsman and Reviewable Agencies: How we will work with you Richie Philpott, Investigator, Strategic Lead for VECs and Institutes of Technology and Ciara Burns, Investigator, Strategic Lead for Universities and other Education Bodies

35 How the Ombudsman works with Reviewable Agencies Not an advocate for either party Not a mediator Independent Inquisitorial rather than adversarial approach Many complaints resolved informally Ombudsman may set own procedures – preference for informal resolution

36 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 Phone Personal Caller Post CICs Website

37 Cases Closed at Each Stage 2012 – Including those which had not been to internal appeal

38 Cases Closed at Each Stage 2012 – Excluding those which had not been to internal appeal

39 How the Ombudsman works with Reviewable Agencies Enquiries Unit: General queries (remit etc.) Has complaint been through agency’s internal complaints procedure? Establish that the agency and issue complained of are in remit Complaint is registered Moves to Assessment Unit

40 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

41 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

42 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 response How the Ombudsman works with Reviewable Agencies

43 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

44 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

45 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 How the Ombudsman works with Reviewable Agencies

46 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

47 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) Joint Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions (PSOP)

48 Delay 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 Common Complaints across Reviewable Agencies

49 Clear communication is key Have procedures and follow them Learn from your own experience – Are there systemic issues? Various Ombudsman Reports on Standards of Complaint- handling Useful SPSO Website: Reducing, and Responding to Complaints

50 Principles of good administration Complaint handling systems Redress Paddy Walsh Investigator

51 Principles of good administration

52 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 Principles of good administration

53 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 1 - Get it right

54 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 2 - Be customer oriented

55 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 3 - Be open and accountable

56 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 4 - Act fairly and proportionately

57 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 upheld Rule 5 - Deal with errors effectively

58 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 performance III.Ensuring that the public body learns lessons from complaints and uses these to improve services and performance IV.Identifying systemic problems and correcting them Rule 6 - Seek continuous improvement

59 Complaint Handling Systems

60 I will deal with this under 6 headings I.Benefits to the body II.Key features III.Building an effective system IV.How to examine a complaint V.Alternative avenues for dealing with a complaint VI.How to deal with challenging behaviour Complaint handling systems

61 I.Provides essential feedback from customers II.It’s a quick, cost effective and efficient means of resolving complaints III.Opportunity to improve customer service IV.An assurance to customers that their complaints are taken seriously V.Customers are being treated properly, fairly and impartially 1. Benefits of an efficient complaint handling system

62 I.Commitment II.Fairness III.Responsiveness IV.Privacy and confidentiality V.Refer to Ombudsman 2. Key features of an effective complaint handling system

63 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 3. Building an effective complaint handling system

64 I.Assessment and planning II.Information gathering III.Making a decision IV.Remedies 4. How to examine a complaint

65 I.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. 5. Alternative avenues for dealing with a complaint

66 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 6. How to deal with challenging behaviour

67 Redress Getting it wrong and putting it right

68 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. Redress

69 Apologise (grudging apology; fulsome apology) Explain how things went wrong Apologise

70 I.Financial Loss II.Loss of purchasing power III.Loss of a non-monetary benefit or service IV.Loss of opportunity V.Costs incurred VI.Time and trouble When should compensation be paid?

71 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 Keeping it Right

72 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 To do before 1 May 2013

73 Universities & Education bodies other than VECs & ITs - Ciara Burns – ; VECs & ITs – Richie Philpott – ; Regulatory bodies – Emer Doyle – ; Quasi judicial & other bodies – Paddy Walsh – ; Contact Details Website:

74 Website:


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