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Ombudsman: Public services complaints increased by more than a third last year

Since the creation of a single ombudsman’s office in 2016, the number of complaints has more than doubled.

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Complaints about public services increased by more than a third last year, Public Services Ombudsman Margaret Kelly said (PSO/PA)

Complaints about public services increased by more than a third last year, Public Services Ombudsman Margaret Kelly said (PSO/PA)

Complaints about public services increased by more than a third last year, Public Services Ombudsman Margaret Kelly said (PSO/PA)

Complaints about public services increased by more than a third last year, a watchdog in Northern Ireland has said.

Since the creation of a single ombudsman’s office in 2016, the number has more than doubled.

Concerns over record keeping at the Environment Agency over effluent treatment on a river were among those upheld.

Public Services Ombudsman Margaret Kelly said: “Our 50th year coincided with an unprecedented increase in demand for our services.

“We received 1,043 new complaints, a significant increase of 37% from the previous year and an increase for the fourth consecutive year.

“To put this into a longer term context, in 2015-16 the former offices of the Northern Ireland Assembly Ombudsman and the Commissioner for Complaints jointly received 477 complaints.”

The ombudsman considered a series of complaints surrounding healthcare and other matters such as planning decisions during 2019/20.

It criticised the Northern Ireland Environment Agency for not keeping proper records about its decision firstly to commission, and then ultimately not proceed with, a report relating to effluent treatment structures on the River Faughan near Londonderry.

The issue was raised with the ombudsman by a representative from the River Faughan Anglers, an organisation with an interest in environmental issues on the river.

There were also no records which showed why the decision was taken not to proceed with itMargaret Kelly

The group had previously been told that an engineer would look at concerns about any risks posed by the effluent treatment structures and that a report would be issued in due course.

The ombudsman said: “During the examination of the case, investigators were unable to find contemporaneous records of any analysis, discussions or decisions that took place within the Environment Agency about the issue.

“There were no records relating to the decision to propose commissioning the engineer’s report, the terms of reference for the report, or substantive contact with civil service technical engineering specialists who could provide the report.

“There were also no records which showed why the decision was taken not to proceed with it.”

The ombudsman recommended that the chief executive of the agency apologise for the failings identified.

PA


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