Saturday 25 March 2017

Recession blamed as complaints about government hit 10 year high

Brian Hutton

Ireland's public services watchdog has blamed the recession for a massive hike in complaints against civil servants and the health service.

Emily O'Reilly, the Ombudsman, revealed a 30pc jump in the number of people contacting her office last year - notching up a record 10-year high in grievances.

The Ombudsman is charged with investigating complaints from people who feel they have been unfairly treated by government departments, the Health Service Executive (HSE), local authorities and An Post.

In her annual report, Ms O'Reilly said there was a 39pc rise in accusations levelled against the civil service - making up nearly half of all complaints to the office - while disagreements with the HSE soared 44pc.

"It is evident from the huge upsurge in complaints made to me in 2010, a new record high, that growing numbers of people are experiencing difficulties with our public services, especially with unemployment and benefits," she said.

"The rise of 53pc in complaints received about the Department of Social Protection in 2010 over 2009 - 1,181 as compared with 772 - comes as no surprise, given our economic situation.

"Clearly, people are engaging more with public bodies but this should not lead to lower standards or people being unfairly treated."

Ms O'Reilly said the rising fall-outs between the public and publicly-funded services showed a need to raise standards across the board.

There was also a 23pc increase in complaints against An Post and 14% more disagreements with local authorities.

Ms O'Reilly also "named and shamed" five government departments and six local authorities who repeatedly refused to improve information about people's right to make complaints to the Ombudsman.

They include the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Department of Education and Skills, Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Justice and Equality.

Local councils criticised for not adequately drawing attention to the Ombudsman included Carlow County Council, Clare County Council, Fingal County Council, Galway County Council, Kerry County Council and Donegal County Council.

Ms O'Reilly said she wrote to the departments and councils on four separate occasions, asking them to improve details of the Ombudsman on their websites, which mostly lacked correct email, fax or telephone numbers.

In the case of Donegal County Council, there was no information at all about the services of the Ombudsman.

Ms O'Reilly said the public bodies had repeatedly ignored a simple and cost free request to let people know they could bring their grievance to the watchdog.

"Given the drive towards public service reform, the lack of co-operation shown by these bodies, funded by the taxpayer, is both enlightening and disappointing," she said.

"It illustrates in concrete terms the difficulties members of the public may well have in their dealings with such public bodies, possibly leaving them with no option but to complain to my office."

The Ombudsman's role in dealing with disagreements helped complainants secure tens of thousands of euro in benefits arrears, overpaid taxes and charges last year, the annual report shows.

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