Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Public complaint system 'haphazard'

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Ann Abraham hit out at departmental waste

Huge sums of taxpayers' cash are being wasted because of deep-seated failures in the way Government departments and agencies deal with public complaints, a watchdog said.

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Ann Abraham said the system was "inconsistent, haphazard and unaccountable" and the same mistakes were being made over and over again.

The ombudsman, who investigates unresolved complaints of maladministration, said an ingrained "closed, defensive" psyche among civil servants was partly to blame for the problems.

She delivered her scathing assessment after a review of recent cases, including one of a woman forced to move home after job centre officials revealed she informed on a benefit cheat neighbour.

Another of the thousands of complaints upheld was from a man marched out of his workplace by security guards after the UK Border Agency repeatedly failed to process his residence card.

Tax credits were the most common source of complaints referred to the ombudsman - more than one in five - with the courts and child support system the next most complained about.

"Disappointingly, this report reveals complaint handling across government to be inconsistent, haphazard and unaccountable, operating without any overarching design, overall standards or common performance framework," Ms Abraham concluded in her report.

"Such a situation is unhelpful for people who want to change their experience of interacting with a public service by making a complaint. It also means opportunities to improve public services through complaint handling are being missed."

Some organisations had as many as four layers of internal complaints procedure and there were people holding dozens of different job titles involved in handling them, the report said.

While £360,000 was spent putting right complaints upheld by the ombudsman, that was nothing compared with the cost of drawn-out procedures or "the sometimes devastating human cost of the failure to put things right for individuals", it warned.

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