Ombudsman Ger Deering
There were 57 complaints from Offaly people to the Office of the Ombudsman in 2021 which made up just over 1.4% of the total number of complaints made last year.
Ombudsman Ger Deering said the number of complaints received across Ireland reached a record high in 2021 with 4,004 people contacting his office.
Mr Deering, who was raised in Laois and has worked locally, said that complaints about local authorities accounted for the largest proportion of the increase, with 1,290 complaints - an increase of 45% on 2020. These mainly related to housing and planning issues.
The role of the Ombudsman is to investigate complaints from people who feel they have been unfairly treated by certain providers of public services, these include government departments, local authorities, the HSE, public hospitals, publicly funded third level education institutions, public and private nursing homes and direct provision accommodation centres. The services of the office are free to use.
One example of a complaint received was from Norah who complained to a private nursing home when her mother was found on her own, with facial injuries, around three kilometres from her nursing home. Her mother was in her late 70s and had dementia. The nursing home initially refused to engage with Norah or her family saying that they could not make a complaint on behalf of her mother. Norah brought her case to the Ombudsman when the private nursing home refused to provide a written response to her complaint.
When the Ombudsman sought information from the nursing home as part of his investigation, it said it was not obliged to respond to his Office. Once the Ombudsman clarified that under the Ombudsman Act 1980, the nursing home was obliged to provide his Office with the information, it provided the information, but continued to refuse to write to the family. The Ombudsman pointed out that the home was in breach of its own complaints policy by not responding in writing.
It became apparent to the Ombudsman that the nursing home had already carried out an investigation into the incident, and that it had made a number of recommendations aimed at avoiding the situation arising in the future. However, the nursing home’s investigation was not carried out in accordance with its own complaints policy
As a result of the Ombudsman’s intervention the nursing home wrote to Norah apologising for the incident. However, it continued to refuse to respond to Norah in writing to the issues raised in her complaint. The Ombudsman provided a full written account of what had happened on the day of the incident to Norah, and her family. He has also spoken with the Department of Health, with a view to having the requirement for private nursing homes to provide written responses to complaints put on a statutory basis
Before complainants bring their complaints to our Office they must first take steps to resolve their complaint with the public service provider concerned.
Another example was when 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.
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