Subject:                                THE-OMBUDSMAN_Issue-2_December-2015

 

From the Australian and New Zealand Ombudsman Association (ANZOA)

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Australian and New Zealand Ombudsman Association (ANZOA)

 

 

 

Australian and New Zealand Ombudsman Association

 

Ombudsmen:
 the leaders in independent resolution, redress and prevention of disputes

Issue 2:
December 2015

 

 

 

'The Ombudsman' is a publication from the Australian and New Zealand Ombudsman Association (ANZOA).

 

 

 

ANZOA (www.anzoa.com.au) is the peak body for Ombudsmen in Australia and New Zealand. Our members are individual Ombudsmen working in parliamentary, industry-based and other statutory Ombudsman offices.

 

 

 

Using the term Ombudsman

The Australian and New Zealand Ombudsman Association (ANZOA) continues to advocate strongly for correct use of the term 'ombudsman'.

As far back as 1994, the Australian Government's Access to Justice Committee in its major report 'Access to Justice: An Action Plan' recommended [at 315]: 

Care should be taken in the naming of complaints bodies and, in particular, the use of the term ‘ombudsman’. This term has come to be associated with accessible, independent and impartial review. If the word is used to describe systems that do not meet these basic criteria, there is a danger that the term will lose credibility. If used loosely, the term ‘ombudsman’ could mislead the public, rather than protect them. The government standards should prohibit use of the term, unless the body meets specified criteria of the kind to which we have referred.

ANZOA's position is that to be an Ombudsman, an office must comply with fundamental principles and essential criteria. We are concerned with developments which undermine Ombudsman fundamentals.

The issue of correct use of the term Ombudsman was also addressed in detail by then Commonwealth Ombudsman, Prof John McMillan, in his 2008 paper, 'What's in a name? Use of the term Ombudsman'.

The primary role of an Ombudsman office is independent resolution, redress and prevention of disputes.

Ombudsmen specialise in dispute resolution — in particular through the receipt, investigation and resolution of citizen or consumer complaints. 

An Ombudsman must not be an advocate for any special interest group, agency or company.

Ombudsman offices commonly draw on their experience in resolving disputes to provide assistance to complainants and organisations, and to contribute to public policy discussions and consultations. But Ombudsmen do not advocate for any of the parties.

Ombudsmen are independent.

Ombudsman independence is a key attribute for effective dispute resolution. This independence is guaranteed through arrangements such as ensuring the Ombudsman is not subject to direction, is able to select her or his own staff, and has an unconditional right to make public reports. 

If it's not an Ombudsman, don't call it one.

The development and popularity of the Ombudsman institution has come about for one reason — Ombudsman offices are renowned for independent, accessible and impartial review and investigation. In increasing numbers, the public turn to Ombudsmen for assistance and support. It is important, therefore, that members of the public are not confused about what to expect when they approach an office called an Ombudsman. Public trust and respect for the independence, integrity, and impartiality of Ombudsman offices is at risk if bodies that do not conform to the accepted model continue to be wrongly described as Ombudsmen.

ANZOA's policy statement:
'Essential criteria for describing a body as an Ombudsman'

Judi Jones
ANZOA Chair

 

 

 

Ombudsman South Australia

 

Ombudsman’s independence and authority strengthens government safeguarding policy 

 

 

 

Ombudsman SA investigates complaints about South Australian government and local government agencies, conducts freedom of information reviews, and supports and monitors the implementation of the Information Sharing Guidelines.

 

 

 

The need for improved information sharing between agencies frequently arises in critical incident enquiries and death reviews. Evidence from these reviews highlights confusion about privacy provisions by service providers, an ill-founded leaning towards secrecy (even where there are threats to safety and wellbeing) and inconsistent information sharing and record keeping practice by service providers. 

To remedy this situation the 2008 Information Sharing Guidelines for Promoting Safety and Wellbeing of Children, Young People and Their Families was endorsed by the South Australian Cabinet. These guidelines defined a process for information sharing that promotes earlier and more effective service coordination in response to risk of harm to children and young people. In 2013 Cabinet directed that the scope of the guidelines be broadened to include information sharing for all vulnerable population groups. Cabinet also decided to locate responsibility for this work within Ombudsman SA. 

This decision has enabled service providers to apply the expanded guidelines, the Information sharing guidelines for promoting safety and wellbeing (ISG), to all clients with whom they work and aligns information sharing practice across both adult and child services throughout the state. Importantly the guidelines are complimentary to relevant legislative provisions for use and disclosure of personal information. There is benefit in this work coming within the responsibilities of the Ombudsman, an independent authority with appropriate jurisdictional oversight as it allows for consistent advice, promotion and monitoring of information sharing practice and policy across all government agencies, funded NGOs and local government in South Australia. 

The authority of the Ombudsman provides for investigation into the content and quality of an organisation’s policies and procedures, their application of the ISG, the subsequent making of recommendations for corrective action, and when required, complaints resolution. Ultimately, it is the South Australian community that will benefit from this work. 

 

 

 

Victorian Ombudsman

 

Building public awareness

 

 

 

The Victorian Ombudsman is a parliamentary office that deals with complaints about Victorian state and local government departments and agencies.

 

 

 

A key element of the strategy the Victorian Ombudsman set last year is to ensure that as many Victorians as possible are aware of the free, fair and independent service provided by our office. 

Research we undertook earlier this year confirmed that those most in need of our services were often the least likely in the community to be aware of the Ombudsman’s office and what we can do for them.

A year into the strategy and we’ve made significant progress. We recently launched an animation video entitled “How We Can Help”.

The video and animation are available with subtitles in English, Chinese, Vietnamese, Somali, Burmese and Karen as well as Auslan. Arabic and Farsi versions are coming soon.

We’ve also begun using Easy English formats for flyers and presentations to ensure our material is accessible to Victorians of all abilities. We trialled this during Phase 1 of the investigation into allegations of abuse in the disability sector and the feedback was so good we will extend it across more of our work.

We’re also getting out across the state — where staff are taking complaints from the public and the Ombudsman is meeting local community service organisations, state and local government representatives, agencies and councils.

 

 

 

Insurance & Savings Ombudsman NZ

 

Reflecting
on 20 years

 

 

 

The Insurance & Financial Services Ombudsman Scheme resolves complaints about insurance & financial services in New Zealand.

 

 

 

On our 20th anniversary, we reflect on changes, challenges, and the knowledge gained from assisting 55,000 consumers who have made use of our free and independent service.

Our recent change of name (from the Insurance & Savings Ombudsman Scheme to the Insurance & Financial Services Ombudsman Scheme) reflects significant membership growth, from our original 62 insurance Participants, to our current 4,000+ financial services Participants. 

What have not changed over 20 years are our core principles: accessibility, independence, fairness, accountability, efficiency and effectiveness.

These principles guide us on a daily basis, even when events require a change of approach, such as the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. Together with being the most destructive catastrophe in New Zealand history, the earthquakes have had an unprecedented impact on the insurance industry and its customers: 7,000 Canterbury homes were totally destroyed; 400 buildings demolished; and 3,000 businesses displaced.

Our scheme has dealt with over 1,570 Canterbury earthquake complaint enquiries and 140 complaints since 2010. Although we now receive fewer earthquake complaints, we continue to adapt our approach to deal with the increasing level of complexity, and the need to reach agreed outcomes.  Facilitated negotiation at the early stage of these complaints has worked extremely well for the parties. Formal investigation is put on hold to see how much can be resolved incrementally, with the assistance of the IFSO Scheme.

Insurer, Southern Response, agreed to extend our jurisdiction for their customers. This enabled us to intervene earlier with complaints where more than $200,000 was at stake, and to be more proactive in facilitating a greater number of agreed outcomes. 

Our independence has been critical to our survival over 20 years, giving consumers greater access to justice outside the court process, at no cost to them. 

 

 

 

Energy and Water Ombudsman (Victoria)

 

Accessibility:
it's not
always
so easy

 

 

 

The Energy and Water Ombudsman (Victoria) (EWOV) is an industry-based external dispute resolution scheme for Victoria's electricity, gas and water residential and business customers.

 

 

 

For all Ombudsman offices, achieving the benchmark of accessibility is fundamental. If obstacles exist to making complaints, how are you serving the people that need help the most?  But, we also know this can be easier said than done.

Consider this — the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that about 3.7% of Australians (about 620,000 people) aged 15 to 74 years have no or low literacy and numeracy skills. This alones poses a big accessibility challenge.

From here there is an entire spectrum of the community who need to be able to easily access help. They may have varying educational backgrounds or mental and physical disabilities. They could be newly established migrants or from a number of other vulnerable groups, including indigenous Australians.

A focus on phone-based customer contact and case work helps significantly to meet this need. The free translation services that schemes like EWOV provide, along with the staff training we conduct, means that our caser handlers can work meaningfully and effectively with all customers. 

EWOV also uses a multitude of other communication channels to reduce the access hurdles for customers – the ability to make a complaint online, access to our services through community events and face-to-face meetings, and the ability for customers to nominate authorised representatives are to name a few.  

On the flip side, EWOV also recognises that there is always room for improvement and innovation is needed to enhance access to our services. We do this by conducting periodic community awareness surveys and by learning from customer experiences through quarterly satisfaction surveying.

We also recognise the importance of getting out into the community and being networked with the organisations that work with vulnerable customer groups. The more that is shared with us about how we can better service the community, the better prepared we are to meet the challenge of accessibility.     

 

 

 

Ombudsman Western Australia

 

Ombudsman WA
attends Homeless Connect

 

 

 

The Western Australian Ombudsman is a parliamentary officer that investigates complaints about public authorities including State government agencies, statutory authorities, local governments and universities.

 

 

 

As part of the Ombudsman’s ongoing Awareness and Accessibility Program to raise awareness of, and increase access to, the Ombudsman’s services for Western Australians, representatives of the Ombudsman’s office participated in the Homeless Connect event in Perth on 11 November 2015.

The Homeless Connect Perth project is about providing a “one stop shop” of services to homeless persons or those at risk of homelessness by bringing together community groups, businesses and the three tiers of Government to provide services for a day.

Homeless Connect Perth is part of a national rollout of Homeless Connect events across Australian capital cities and regional centres. This year, more than 30 service providers were involved in the event.

It is the third time that the Ombudsman's office has participated in this event. Our participation involved:

o   Representation of the Office at an information stand shared with the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s office;

o   Provision of resources about the Office, including publications to both participating service providers and attendees at the event; and

o   Responding to queries from service providers and attendees involving the function and services of the Office.

More about Homeless Connect

 

 

 

 

AUSTRALIAN AND NEW ZEALAND OMBUDSMAN ASSOCIATION (ANZOA)
Secretariat:
info@anzoa.com.au

You are receiving this newsletter to assist and inform your work with the offices of ANZOA's Ombudsman members.

 

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