How the Public Services Ombudsman Wales Act will help drive up standards in public service delivery
July sees history being made as the Public Services Ombudsman Wales Act comes into force.
The Act will allow my office to proactively initiate investigations rather than waiting for a complaint to be made, removing barriers to justice and ensuring a seamless complaints investigation service for people let down by the healthcare system.
My ambition is to use this new legislation to provide a voice for the voiceless and empower the most vulnerable in our society.
It’s been a long journey, but one that has been worth making, and I am thankful to the Welsh Assembly’s Finance Committee and the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee for their work in bringing and passing this legislation.
During my five years in office, I have often felt uncomfortable that under-represented and vulnerable groups who may be subject to injustice do not always feel comfortable – or fully able – to make a complaint to my office.
For example, who complains on behalf of the homeless person who can’t access vital housing services? Or the pensioner neglected by carers in their own home but too scared to complain?
Over the past five years, complaints and enquiries to my office have increased 113%, while health complaints have escalated by 35% during the same timeframe. My Complaints Assessment Team does a fantastic job processing those complaints. Under the previous system, if a person was unable to put a complaint in writing, the team recorded the details and sent it back to the complainant for agreement. Previously it has been the complainant’s responsibility to check, sign and return the form. Perhaps unsurprisingly, only 50% of these complaints were ever returned. The removal of this bureaucratic obstacle in the new legislation is a stride forward for the citizen’s voice, especially when literacy levels in Wales lag 10% behind the UK average.
The legislation also means we will gather standardised open complaints data across sectors for the first time. This will allow us to meaningfully compare how complaints are dealt with by public service providers in different parts of the country.
The new Act draws on best practice from Ombudsman schemes across the world – from Scotland and Ireland to Catalonia and Ontario. The result is a future-proofed piece of progressive legislation that I am confident will stand the test of time.