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Sunday 11 December 2016

State wanted family to repay €105k given to widow by mistake

Published 11/06/2015 | 02:30

Ombudsman Peter Tyndall said he was of the view that the department’s decision in the case was unfair and asked the Chief Appeals Officer, independent of the department, to review the case
Ombudsman Peter Tyndall said he was of the view that the department’s decision in the case was unfair and asked the Chief Appeals Officer, independent of the department, to review the case

The daughter of a deceased woman who had suffered from mental illness was asked to pay back €105,000 paid out in error to her mother by the Department of Social Protection over the course of almost a decade.

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The overpayment came to light when the woman wrote to the department informing it of her mother's death in March 2012.

She asked the department to stop paying her mother the Widow's Non-Contributory Pension and Non-Contributory State Pension.

But when the department carried out a review, it discovered an overpayment amounting to €105,000 dating back to 2003 and sought its repayment.

Ombudsman Peter Tyndall said he was of the view that the department's decision in the case was unfair and asked the Chief Appeals Officer, independent of the department, to review the case.

The department's decision was overturned on the basis that the medical evidence showed the woman had been unwell for a number of years, and also because the department had not carried out a review of the case since 2000.

The case was one of several revealed in the annual report of the Office of the Ombudsman for 2014.

The Ombudsman revealed that a large number of cases involved the Department of Social Protection and the HSE, reflecting the large number of interactions it has with the public.

Surprised

In all, 3,535 complaints were received in 2014, an increase of 11pc on the previous year.

One case handled by the Ombudsman led to a new patient identification process being brought in at Beaumont Hospital, after a woman received a call from the hospital asking her to attend for a lumbar puncture.

The woman was surprised to be called since she had no dealings with Beaumont Hospital, and it was only after persistent questioning that hospital staff agreed to investigate.

They found an error had occurred because the woman shared the same forename, surname and year of birth with the real patient.

Meanwhile the Ombudsman expressed grave concern that his remit does not yet extend to cover Direct Provision Centres for asylum seekers.

Although he does receive complaints from people living in Direct Provision Centres, Mr Tyndall said: "At the moment there's nothing I can do for them and that is clearly unacceptable."

Also of concern, he said, is the fact that his remit does not cover clinical decisions by doctors, leaving people with nowhere to go with their complaints.

Mr Tyndall said the recent revelations about Portlaoise Maternity Hospital showed "that if complaints are dealt with promptly, you can stop situations developing where lots of patients suffer similar disadvantage."

Irish Independent

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