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New body to handle complaints

By Mike Nesbitt

Published 11/05/2015

Mike Nesbitt MLA is chair of the OFMDFM Committee
Mike Nesbitt MLA is chair of the OFMDFM Committee

The OFMDFM Committee is bringing forward a Public Services Ombudsperson Bill to strengthen the citizen's right of redress where maladministration by a public body - such as delay, or incompetence - causes injustice.

The Bill will create one new office to be known as the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsperson (NIPSO) to replace the two existing offices of Assembly Ombudsman and Commissioner for Complaints.

Whether the public body you want to complain about is a Government department or a local council your complaint will go to the NIPSO.

The citizen can still seek the help of an MLA in bringing a complaint, but this is no longer a requirement.

The Ombudsperson will have a new power to launch investigations into suspected systemic maladministration - this may be particularly useful in areas where vulnerable citizens are unable or unwilling to make personal complaints. The NIPSO will also have power to seek to resolve complaints at an early stage.

The current legislation allows for complaints involving the exercise of clinical judgment by healthcare providers. The Bill will extend this to include the exercise of professional judgment by providers of social care - reflecting the reality that health and social care are often closely related and provided by the same bodies.

The Bill "levels up" protection in a number of areas, such as the requirement for public bodies to disclose their legal advice to the NIPSO and the right of the citizen to apply to the county court for damages on foot of the NIPSO's investigation report.

Schools, universities and further education colleges are outside the scope of the current legislation, but will be brought within the NIPSO's remit.

The Ombudsperson will not investigate public sector employees' complaints about employment disputes - the committee considered that there were alternative mechanisms in place.

The citizen will be expected to exhaust a public body's complaints procedure before complaining to the NIPSO and public body must inform the citizen of their right to refer a complaint to the NIPSO.

Mike Nesbitt MLA is chair of the OFMDFM Committee

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