Complaints to the Ombudsman about public services reached a record high in 2021.

4,004 complaints were received by the Office last year, the highest ever in the 38-year history of the Ombudsman.

The latest annual report published by the Office of Ombudsman shows that complaints were up 17% compared to 2020.

The largest proportion of the increase in complaints were about local authorities - they rose by 45%.

Complaints mainly related to housing and planning issues.

There were 227 complaints made about Dublin City Council, 101 complaints about Cork City Council and 70 about Limerick City and County Council.

There were 796 complaints about the health sector including the Health Service Executive, public hospitals and Child and Family Agency Tusla - up 26% since 2020.

325 were about HSE services, including 105 complaints about primary and community care, and 56 about the Treatment Abroad and Cross Border Directive schemes.

Tusla was the subject of 118 complaints to the Ombudsman.

Complaints about Government departments and offices were down 12% on 2020.

There were 579 complaints about the Department of Social Protection but this was down from 735 in 2020.

Those complaints related to the Disability Allowance and there were 62 complaints about the Jobseekers' Allowance.

Ombudsman Ger Deering criticised the passport service at the Department of Foreign Affairs.

There was a significant increase in complaints about the department to the Ombudsman in 2021, the bulk of those relating to delays in processing first-time passport applications.

The Ombudsman said that while he understood that the passport service was put under pressure due to the pandemic and surge in applications following Brexit; such delays were not acceptable and that the experience of 2021 should not be repeated.

"There's no doubt people are waiting too long for passports and the bigger issue would appear that people can't contact people when they need to access information that people aren't picking up the phone meaning the public are unable to contact people," Mr Deering told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.

Mr Deering said that at the heart of all of these complaints was poor communication, but also that services had to adjust how they operated during the pandemic.

Report summarises some complaints

The annual report also summarises some of the complaints upheld in 2021, including one in which a nursing home refused to respond in writing to a family's complaint about their mother who was a resident in a private nursing home.

The woman, who had dementia, was found nearly 3km from the home with facial injuries.

Her family made a complaint to the home, however, the nursing home initially refused to discuss the case with them.

While the home subsequently gave a verbal response, the family contacted the Ombudsman when it refused to respond to their complaint in writing.

The report notes that the nursing home also initially refused to provide information to the Ombudsman about the incident but, following further discussions, the Ombudsman was able to investigate the complaint.

He discovered that the home had carried out an investigation into the matter but its investigation and response to the family's complaint was not in accordance with its own complaints policy.

The nursing home wrote to the family apologising for the incident.

Arising from this case and similar incidents, the Ombudsman contacted the Department of Health with a view to making it a legal requirement for nursing homes to provide written responses to complaints.

Another incident related to a complaint by a man after Tipperary County Council said that his two businesses would be assessed as one for the Government's Covid-related business 'Restart’ grants.

The council said that because his two businesses were linked, and shared the same tax number, the man would be entitled to one grant only in respect of his two operations.

The Restart scheme provides that businesses can be entitled to more than one grant if they have separate "rated properties" or "operating from a number of properties."

The Ombudsman noted that the council had issued separate rate demands in relation to the man’s two businesses and their activities were quite different in nature.

In addition, the businesses were registered separately with the Companies Registration Office.

The Ombudsman asked the council to review its decision and it awarded the man an additional €3,100 in respect of his second business.

A woman complained to the Ombudsman when her application for reimbursement of medical treatment for her daughter under the Cross Border Directive scheme was refused by the HSE.

The HSE said that the woman had not provided evidence of an out-patient consultation prior to treatment, and there was insufficient proof of payment - both of which are a requirement of the scheme.

When the Ombudsman investigated the case he found that: while a letter from the clinic abroad showing evidence of an out-patient consultation was unsigned, it was dated and contained the address of the clinic; there were discrepancies in some of the invoices from the clinic such as including gross figures rather than the net cost of treatment.

Following a request from the Ombudsman, the clinic provided the correct invoices; there was proof of a loan taken out by the woman to pay the cost of the treatment and an invoice from the clinic marked "paid in full".

The Ombudsman believed that, taken together, this was sufficient evidence to approve the woman’s application.

The HSE reviewed its decision and reimbursed the woman around €5,000 in treatment costs.