Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman: An information webinar

On Tuesday 12th January 2021, NICVA was joined by the new Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman, Margaret Kelly for an information webinar.

Welcoming the attendees to the online event, Seamus McAleavey introduced Margaret Kelly and the team from NIPSO.

The Office of Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO) was established in April 2016 following the introduction of Public Services Ombudsman Act (Northern Ireland) 2016. The Office replaces, as well as expands, the functions of the former offices of Assembly Ombudsman and Commissioner for Complaints.

Outlining her experience in the voluntary and community sector, which includes as Director of Foster NI and Mencap, Margaret highlighted how, since taking up post in August 2020, she sees real value and importance in reaching out and engaging with organisations within the sector. By connecting effectively with organisations, the NIPSO team hope to educate and inform groups and individuals about the role and responsibility of the statutory office.

The informative presentation provided attendees with an overview of the functions and remit of the Ombudsman’s office. Describing the core functions, Margaret noted that the opportunity to improve public services through shared learning from investigations is just as important as providing redress for individuals who have suffered injustices during the receipt of public services.

The office can be approached by anyone who feels aggrieved by the actions or lack of actions of a public sector organisation, after they have followed the complaints procedure of that specific service. If they do not feel that their complaint has been dealt with or if the outcome does not effectively reflect the seriousness of the complaint, they can then approach NIPSO to take it further.

NIPSO are focused on being fair, independent, and impartial. Their features include:

  • The independent investigation of complaints of maladministration
  • Investigation of health and social care judgements
  • The ability to obtain evidence and expert opinion
  • Making recommendations to public bodies.
  • Helpline staff who can provide advice and signpost to other services

Providing detail on what maladministration and the principles of good administration look like, Margaret emphasised that injustices can be caused not only by the formal systems in place but also the manner in which you are treated.

Complaints to NIPSO can be divided into 5 main sectors:

  • Central Government
  • Health and Social Care
  • Local Government
  • Education
  • Housing

It is important for the voluntary and community sector to note, that if you are a charity delivering services under contract to a public sector organisation/department and a complaint is made to NIPSO, the services that you are delivering under contract can come within the remit of an NIPSO investigation.

Finishing the presentation, Margaret expressed the aim of her office was to bring forward a Complaints Standards Authority which is an element within the Public Services Ombudsman Act (Northern Ireland) 2016. The CSA will require public bodies to sign up to a model complaints handling procedure, which NIPSO are hoping to design through engagement with the public sector.

For further information on NIPSO you can visit their website NIPSO • Office of the Northern Ireland Ombudsman or follow them on Twitter using the handle @NIPSO_Comms

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