A review of the Office of the Ombudsman Outreach Programme

By Paul Howe, Communications Officer, Office of the Ombudsman Ireland.

While complaints can be made to the Office by letter, email, online and in person at our Dublin office, we are aware that many people want to meet in person outside Dublin and need assistance with their complaint.

 We have a number of initiatives as part of our ‘Outreach’ programme. For a day every month a member of our complaints team is available in each of the major cities outside Dublin (Cork, Limerick and Galway) to take complaints and provide advice on our role in examining complaints about public services.  We also take part in regional exhibitions to highlight the role of the Ombudsman and provide advice.

 We also wish to engage with public representatives and the many providers of public services located around the country. Once a year we carry out a major ‘regional visit’.  This year we hosted a series of events in Waterford over two days in September 2017.

 There are a number of events held during the regional visit, each tailored to reach out to our various stakeholders.

 Seminar on Learning from Complaints

A seminar is hosted by the Ombudsman for local public representatives and officials, on the theme of ‘Learning from complaints: How complaints can improve public services’. The seminar is attended by local county councillors, TDs (Irish MPs), senior officials from public service providers and local voluntary groups.

 Complaints Clinic for the public

Our staff hold a ‘Complaints Clinic’ in a central location which is easy to reach, such as the main hotel in an area. We take complaints and provide advice and assistance to the public. We advertise in local media in advance, and the Ombudsman was interviewed on local radio to promote the clinic. This year, staff received 61 complaints, surpassing the 60 complaints received in Waterford in all of 2016. This has encouraged us to review the value of regional radio and press advertising in promoting the role of the Office.

 One-to-one meetings with senior managers

The Ombudsman meets with key local public service providers to discuss relevant issues. For example in Waterford, Peter Tyndall visited University Hospital Waterford where he met with complaint handlers and with the Hospital manager to discuss the recommendations in his investigation report Learning To Get Better.  Peter also met with the head of Waterford City & County Council and visited a local ‘direct provision’ centre for asylum seekers.

 Training and Information sessions

Training of local Citizen’s Information Centre (CIC) staff about complaint taking and the role of the Ombudsman. We had a high turn out with over 40 staff attending. CICs provide a valuable and easily accessible local service to people living in the community.

 This year we also held information sessions for residents in four accommodation centres for asylum seekers. Complaints about asylum seeker accommodation came within the Irish Ombudsman’s jurisdiction in April 2017. We have developed an information leaflet available in five languages for the residents.

 Ombudsman’s Casebook

We also publish a Special Edition Ombudsman’s Casebook for the region to hand out at the seminar. The Casebook provides selected summaries of complaints the Ombudsman has dealt with in the region, in this case Waterford. Its purpose is to provide learning for public bodies, act as a reference for caseworkers, and promote good administration. It is also available on our website.

 Regional Visit – What we do:

  • Research the most suitable area for a Regional Visit
  • Book a suitable location for the training, complaints clinic and seminar
  • Invite local public representatives and senior officials from public service providers to the seminar.
  • Liaise with the CIC regional manager to maximise staff numbers for training
  • Organise one-on-one meetings with senior management of public service providers in the region.
  • Publish a Special Edition Casebook for the region, and include it in an information pack for seminar attendees
  • We advertise in local media in advance, and also distribute an editorial for the local newspapers. We arrange for the Ombudsman to be available for interview on radio.
  • We promote the visit on social media and our website

 Finally, we carry out a review of the visit, seeking feedback on the successes and learnings form the two days. That forms the basis of our plans for the next year. One lesson we have taken from our visit to Waterford is that local advertising on radio is very effective in getting the message out to the public.