Complaints against public services reach an all-time high

Complaints to the Ombudsman about public services reached a record high in 2021.

4,004 complaints were received by the Office last year, the highest ever recorded in the Ombudsman’s 38-year history.

The latest annual report published by the Office of Ombudsman shows that complaints have increased by 17% compared to 2020.

The largest proportion of the increase in complaints concerned local authorities – they increased by 45%.

Complaints mainly related to housing and town planning issues.

There have been 227 complaints against Dublin City Council, 101 complaints against Cork City Council and 70 against Limerick City and County Council.

There were 796 complaints about the health sector, including the Health Service Executive, public hospitals and the Tusla Child and Family Agency – up 26% since 2020.

325 concerned HSE services, including 105 complaints relating to primary and community care, and 56 relating to treatment abroad and cross-border directive programmes.

Tusla has been the subject of 118 complaints to the Ombudsman.

Complaints about government services and offices are down 12% from 2020.

There were 579 complaints about the Department of Social Care, but that figure was down from 735 in 2020.

These complaints concerned invalidity allowance and 62 complaints concerned jobseeker’s allowance.

Ombudsman Ger Deering criticized the Department of Foreign Affairs passport service.

There has been a significant increase in complaints about the department to the Ombudsman in 2021, the bulk of those relating to delays in processing first passport applications.

The Ombudsman said that while he understood the passport service was under pressure due to the pandemic and increased demands following Brexit; such delays are not acceptable and that the experience of 2021 must not be repeated.

“There is no doubt that people are waiting too long for their passports and the biggest problem would seem that people cannot contact people when they need to access information that people do not pick up on the phone, which which means the public are unable to contact people,” Mr Deering told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

Mr Deering said that at the heart of all these complaints was poor communication, but also that services had to adjust their operation during the pandemic.

The report summarizes some complaints

The annual report also summarizes some of the upheld complaints in 2021, including one in which a nursing home refused to respond in writing to a family’s complaint about their mother who was a resident of a private nursing home.

The woman, suffering from dementia, was found nearly 3 km from the home with facial injuries.

Her family filed a complaint with the home, but the care home initially refused to discuss the matter with them.

Although the home later gave a verbal response, the family contacted the ombudsman when he refused to respond in writing to their complaint.

The report notes that the care home also initially refused to provide information to the ombudsman about the incident but, after further discussion, the ombudsman was able to investigate the complaint.

He found that the home had investigated the matter, but that its investigation and response to the family’s complaint did not comply with its own complaints policy.

The nursing home has written to the family apologizing for the incident.

Following this and similar incidents, the Ombudsman approached the Department of Health with a view to imposing a legal obligation on care homes to provide written responses to complaints.

Another incident relates to a complaint made by a man after Tipperary County Council said his two businesses would be assessed as one for the government’s Covid-related business ‘restart’ grants.

The council said that because his two businesses were linked and shared the same tax identification number, the man would only be eligible for one grant for his two operations.

The restart program provides that businesses may be eligible for more than one grant if they have separate “rated properties” or “operate from multiple properties”.

The ombudsman noted that council had issued separate tariff applications in relation to the two businesses of the man and that their activities were quite different in nature.

In addition, companies were registered separately with the Companies Registration Office.

The Ombudsman asked the council to reconsider its decision and awarded the man an additional €3,100 for his second business.

A woman complained to the Ombudsman when her claim for reimbursement of medical care for her daughter under the Cross-Border Directive scheme was rejected by the HSE.

The HSE said the woman had not provided proof of an outpatient visit before treatment and there was insufficient proof of payment – both a requirement of the scheme.

When the Ombudsman investigated the case, he found that: although a letter from the overseas clinic showing evidence of an outpatient visit was unsigned, it was dated and contained the address of the clinic ; there were discrepancies in some of the clinic’s bills, such as including gross figures rather than the net cost of treatment.

Following a request from the Ombudsman, the clinic provided the correct invoices; there was proof of a loan taken out by the woman to pay for the cost of the treatment and a bill from the clinic marked “paid in full”.

The Ombudsman considered that, taken together, this evidence was sufficient to approve the woman’s request.

The HSE reviewed their decision and reimbursed the woman around €5,000 in treatment costs.