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Wednesday 21 March 2018

Families 'must have right to complain about water'

Water meter protesters. Photo: Provision
Water meter protesters. Photo: Provision
Peter Tyndall

Aideen Sheehan Consumer Correspondent

THE Ombudsman has called for householders to be given the right to independent redress for service and billing complaints against Irish Water.

At the launch of his first annual report since taking office, Peter Tyndall warned that the increasing privatisation of public services such as waste and water meant citizens were losing their entitlements to redress when problems arose.

Householders running into problems with water services, charges or meters could no longer take complaints to the Ombudsman since Irish Water was created. This means they do not have the independent complaints mechanism they had when water was controlled by local authorities.

"When the legislation was being put through nobody realised that redress was being lost," he said. "The pattern of public service is getting more complex but that doesn't mean citizens' access to redress should be more complex – that needs to be simplified because people struggle to understand where they can take their complaints."

He called for the Ombudsman's jurisdiction to be extended to public services provided by private bodies, saying there was an opportunity to do this under a new EU directive on alternative dispute resolution.

The Ombudsman's office received 3,190 complaints last year which was down 6pc on the previous year, with the largest number relating to the Department of Social Protection, local authorities, the HSE and the Department of Agriculture.

Complaints it helped resolve included securing a hospital apology for the family of a woman who had received poor treatment and information prior to her death from lung cancer. In another case a woman received arrears of €91,000 from the Department of Social Protection for an invalidity pension which had been wrongly refused twice.

Mr Tyndall said he believed the reason complaints were down was that people were tired by the time they exhausted the internal complaints mechanisms of public bodies and they didn't always know they could appal to the Ombudsman.

In particular he was concerned at the relatively low number of complaints about the health service as it was out of line with other countries yet he did not think Ireland's health system was better than those.

He wanted to ensure a more streamlined approach to handling complaints by public bodies and to ensure citizens were always informed of their right to go to the Ombudsman.

An extra 200 public bodies came under the Ombudsman's remit last year, and 150 complaints had been received in relation to these including 69 relating to the SUSI scheme for third-level grants.

Irish Independent

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