A new Ombudsman’s office for investigating complaints about public services has been launched.
The Office of the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO) has been created by the Ombudsman (NI) Act 2016, a new piece of Assembly legislation aimed at making it easier for the public to complain about public services and at increasing the public accountability of public service providers.
The Ombudsman independently investigates complaints about a wide range of bodies spanning the health, housing, local government and education sectors. However now the public can also complain to the Ombudsman about the actions of the Northern Ireland Audit Office and the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission.
The new NIPSO has been given a wider remit and greater investigative powers than its predecessors, and will be able to:
· publish investigation reports in the public interest;
· investigate complaints about social work decisions;
· investigate complaints about maladministration by government departments in commercial and contractual matters (including procurement);
· access legal advice that is relevant to an investigation;
· take any action in addition to or instead of an investigation, such as conciliation.
Other key changes include:
· people can complain directly to NIPSO (there is no requirement to obtain MLA sponsorship to make a complaint about a Government Department);
· providers of public services must signpost complainants to NIPSO when at the conclusion of their complaints process;
· people must bring a complaint to NIPSO within six months of completing the public service’s internal complaints process.
Commenting on the launch of the new Ombudsman’s Office Mrs Marie Anderson said: “I am pleased and privileged to have been appointed by the Assembly to lead this new Office and to have the opportunity of implementing the powers provided by the refreshed Ombudsman legislation. By ensuring an independent and impartial investigation into a complaint, my aim is to help ensure a fair and efficient public administration for all.
“As Ombudsman it is my role to ensure that the public can easily complain about public services and can expect that their complaint will be thoroughly examined by my staff. I equally recognise the importance of sharing the experience of this office and best practice in complaints handling with the organisations under my jurisdiction to support them in improving both service delivery to the public and their complaints handling practices.
“It is important that those organisations take complaints seriously and make genuine attempts to resolve all complaints at source. Where that is not possible or a member of the public remains dissatisfied my office will independently assess their concerns.
“The Assembly’s legislation has given me the power to ensure that public sector providers are held to account for their actions. The ability to publish investigation reports in the public interest is an important new power that will have far reaching implications for the public sector as those reports will ensure that the learning from complaints is widely shared”.
The new NIPSO replaces the previous offices of Assembly Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints.
In addition to her role as Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman, Marie Anderson has also been appointed as the Northern Ireland Local Government Commissioner for Standards. The functions of the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman have also been transferred to her Office.
For information about how to make a complaint to the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman please visit www.nipso.org.uk