Complaints from people living in Direct Provision and more emphasis on systematic and own initiative investigations are among the new developments noted in the Ombudsman's report for 2017.

Peter Tyndall's annual report showed that his office received more than 3,000 complaints about public services last year.

The most complained about sectors last year were Government departments/offices (953 complaints), local authorities (852) and health and social care sector (608).

There was an increase in the number of complaints about the local authority sector, which the Ombudsman said was a result of a rise in planning enforcement complaints and housing cases.

The Ombudsman said 2017 was a productive year for his office. The number of complaints remained broadly the same as 2016, but Mr Tyndall said investigations reached new highs.

He listed a number:

  • the Magdalene Restorative Justice, where he recommended that Government centrally develop new guidelines to be used in all future redress or restorative justice schemes
  • the complaints procedure at the Child and Family Agency, where he made seven recommendations that have been included in an action plan
  • the Treatment Abroad Scheme, where the HSE has agreed to make the applications and appeals process easier for patients

Mr Tyndall also noted that from April last year his office could take complaints from people living in Direct Provision.

He said many living in Direct Provision were fearful of authority and afraid of complaining but he received 115 complaints in 2017.

Mr Tyndall said: "Many of these were about transfers to other centres or accommodation issues. We have an ongoing programme of visits to all accommodation centres and resolve many complaints informally on the ground."

His staff have visited 30 of the 32 direct provision centres and engaged with staff and residents.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Tyndall said many of those in direct provision would not feel confident enough to make complaints or approach authorities.

Mr Tyndall said teams were able to deal with many of the issues on the ground, adding that teams would continue to visit centres throughout the year.

He said that one out-standing recommendation of the office, the Lost at Sea Scheme, was accepted by the Government during the year.

This means, he said, that for the first time in 34 years, all recommendations made by the office have been accepted by Government.

Mr Tyndall said there had been considerable progress made for end of life care in hospitals, adding that there were not very well developed facitilties for hospice care at home.


Woman to pursue education after accommodation transfer

The report detailed the case of an 18-year-old woman who arrived in Ireland alone applied for asylum as a minor and started her fifth year education in Dublin.

She was initially living close to her aunt - her only family member. However, she was then assigned to a direct provision accommodation centre in the southwest.

The manager of the accommodation centre facilitated her travel to the Dublin school and her return at weekends.

However, she received a letter from the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) warning her about absences from the centre.

RIA disputed that it had issued a letter to the woman and rejected a transfer request from the woman.

The woman was able to show the Ombudsman a copy of the letter from RIA.

The Ombudsman believed that RIA's decision to refuse the transfer request was inconsistent with its policy of keeping residents in accommodation centres close to other family members and facilitating continuity of education.

RIA agreed to review its decision and granted the woman a transfer to a centre within commuting distance of her school and her aunt in Dublin.

The Ombudsman's constructive engagement with RIA has also reduced the number of complaints he has received about transfer requests.

Man complained when parents' nursing home charges doubled

Another complaint came from a man on behalf of his parents after their nursing home doubled the charge for its social programme from €86 to €173 each per month.

A social charge is a charge for providing recreational activities for residents such as creative classes, tours, talks or other entertainment. It is not covered by the Nursing Home Support Scheme (Fair Deal).

The charges should be set out and agreed with each resident in their contract for care.

The nursing home said that the doubling of the charge was necessary as the previous year's programme ran at a loss and to allow for increased social activities. However, the contract for care listed only an overall charge for 'entertainment' and gave no breakdown of the charge.

The Ombudsman considered that the contract did not comply with the regulations; that the contract should set out the content of the social programme; that the residents should have an input into the type of activities in the home; and that residents should be able to opt out of paying for activities that they could not avail of.

In this case the nursing home introduced a more detailed contract; charged only a nominal fee for residents who could not take part in certain activities and arranged for residents input into the design of future programmes.