Subject:                                THE OMBUDSMAN | Highlighting the work of Ombudsman offices across Australia and New Zealand | Issue 1 - March 2015

 

From the Australian and New Zealand Ombudsman Association (ANZOA)

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THE OMBUDSMAN

 

 

 

Australian and New Zealand Ombudsman Association

 

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

Issue 1: March 2015

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

ANZOA 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.

 

 

 

I am pleased to send to you this our first issue of ‘The Ombudsman’, an e-newsletter of the Australian and New Zealand Ombudsman Association (ANZOA).

A key role of ANZOA is to promote the role and values of Ombudsmen and our contribution as leaders in the independent resolution, redress and prevention of disputes.

Across Australia and New Zealand, the offices of ANZOA members receive and resolve hundreds of thousands of disputes each year. The role of Ombudsman offices in providing a low cost, informal, timely and cost-efficient pathway to dispute resolution was recognised by the Productivity Commission (Australia) in its recent Access to Justice Arrangements Inquiry Report. The Commission reflected that increased referral of people with disputes to Ombudsman offices could significantly reduce the level of unmet legal need across the Australian community. 

In addition to resolving individual disputes, Ombudsmen look at complaints from a systemic perspective with a view to finding solutions to address detriment across communities and industries. Fixing the root causes of a problem is an efficient and effective way to promote fair outcomes, regardless of whether a person does or does not make a complaint. 

‘The Ombudsman’ highlights some of these aspects of our work. Short articles, exploring areas such as energy affordability, Ombudsman accessibility, standards for complaint management and sharing good practice on child protection, are supplemented with a summary selection of quick links.

Planned as a six-monthly publication, ‘The Ombudsman’ is an insight into the daily working of the offices of ANZOA’s members. We are confident it will increase your awareness of Ombudsmen and the work we do. 

Simon Cohen
ANZOA Chair
Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman 

 

 

 

Commonwealth Ombudsman

 

The public interest disclosure scheme protects public officials from the consequences of making a disclosure, provided they make that disclosure to the right person

 

 

 

The Commonwealth Ombudsman is a parliamentary office that handles complaints, conducts investigations, performs audits and inspections, encourages good administration, and carries out specialist oversight tasks in relation to Australian Government agencies.

 

 

 

On 1 July 1977, the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s office commenced its primary role of investigating administrative actions of Commonwealth Departments, usually in response to a complaint from a member of the public. Over time the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction expanded to include the Australian Federal Police (1981); Defence Force (1983); the ACT Government (under ACT legislation (1989)), private postal operators (2006) and complaints from overseas students about private registered Australian education providers (2011).

The Ombudsman’s role grew again in 2014/15, with the introduction of the Public Interest Disclosure (PID) scheme. The PID scheme covers Commonwealth departments and agencies, Commonwealth-controlled companies and the administrative functions of most Commonwealth courts and tribunals. At its heart, the PID scheme protects public officials from the consequences of making a disclosure, provided they make that disclosure to the right person. It is an offence for anyone to take reprisal action for a disclosure and provides access to the courts for redress.

The PID scheme places the responsibility on the ‘Principal Officer’ of each agency to establish procedures for receiving and investigating disclosures about their agency and the officials who belong to it, including the people or organisations with whom the agency has contracts to provide goods or deliver services. The Principal Officer must ensure that people know how to make a disclosure, including who to make it to, and take measures to protect officials from reprisal.

The Ombudsman has several important roles in the PID scheme:

o   providing information and support for agencies and disclosers

o   receiving and investigating disclosures about other agencies, if there are reasonable grounds for the discloser not to deal with the agency concerned

o   monitoring and oversight: agencies must notify the Ombudsman when they allocate a disclosure; decide not to investigate or stop investigating ; and seek the Ombudsman’s approval if they cannot complete an investigation within 90 days

o   receiving and investigating complaints about the way that agencies handle disclosures.

The Ombudsman reports each year on the operation of the PID scheme, including the numbers of disclosures received and investigated by each agency and the action taken in response to recommendations.

See 'Quick clicks' further down for a link to the 2013-14 report, PID guides and fact sheets.

 

 

 

Energy and Water Ombudsman (Victoria)

 

New EWOV affordability report — data and analysis complemented with a selection of case studies

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

As energy and water prices increase, more households struggle to pay bills and stay connected to these essential services. The Energy and Water Ombudsman (Victoria) (EWOV), like many other Ombudsman schemes, has seen the effects of this in our day-to-day work.

In 2013-14, for example, we handled 84,758 cases, of which 18,065 were credit cases — that is, cases about the capacity of customers to pay their bills and stay on supply. With this wealth of case data, we are in a strong position to contribute information and insights to inform public discussion, policy development and industry practice on affordability issues.

Our new quarterly Affordability Report was developed by our Research and Communications Team in consultation with our hardship specialists. We also sought input from EWOV’s Community Consultation Group (CCG), a group of representatives from community sector peak bodies, policy and service delivery organisations that work with vulnerable consumers.

The first Affordability Report was released in December 2013, covering issues and trends from the July–September 2014 quarter. Each Affordability Report covers that quarter’s credit cases under three sub-issues: payment difficulties, energy disconnection/water restriction and collection. Where the figures suggest a particular concern or an emerging trend — or where these are flagged by our Conciliators or our Systemic Issues Specialist — we review a sample of relevant cases in detail and provide this analysis in the report. Responding to a CCG suggestion, we also include detailed information about case outcomes and customer circumstances (such as arrears owing) at the close of their complaint. This data and analysis is complemented with a selection of case studies.

The first two reports highlight an interesting trend: while total EWOV cases have been decreasing since their peak in the July–September 2013 quarter, credit cases are decreasing more slowly, and are therefore making up a growing proportion of total EWOV cases. In the October–December 2014 quarter, we also saw an increase in the relative importance of gas affordability issues — although electricity concerns continue to predominate. We will continue to provide regular and timely updates on affordability cases through the Affordability Report, one of a suite of EWOV quarterly reports.

See 'Quick clicks' further down for a link to EWOV's latest Affordability Report.

 

 

 

Energy & Water Ombudsman NSW

 

A strategic response to tackling energy affordability — making a difference in Aboriginal communities

 

 

 

The Energy & Water Ombudsman NSW (EWON) is an industry-based external dispute resolution scheme for NSW electricity and gas customers, and some NSW water customers.

 

 

 

EWON’s Aboriginal Project Officer spends a significant amount of time travelling to rural and remote Aboriginal communities across NSW —  building relationships with community leaders and helping people to better manage their energy accounts and sort out problems with their provider.

Highlighted in our contact with people in these communities was the extremely high level of electricity debt people are struggling to manage (often in excess of $5,000). Also highlighted were the difficult circumstances arising from geographical isolation, high energy consumption and limited capacity to pay for that consumption, poor housing infrastructure, inefficient appliances, extreme weather conditions and lack of access to support services.

Legal Aid NSW invited EWON to be part of the Money Counts initiative to bring consumer law advice and casework services to disadvantaged and vulnerable Aboriginal consumers. The Money Counts partnership works with Aboriginal communities in Dareton, Boggabilla, Toomelah, Mt Druitt, Lake Cargelligo, Murrin Bridge and Condobolin. EWON took referrals from Legal Aid to deal with individual electricity complaints, negotiate payment arrangements and refer customers to their energy provider’s customer assistance programs and other agencies for financial assistance.

These consumers were not aware of the energy rebates available, or how much their appliances cost to run. One remote community was targeted by an energy door-to-door sales representative signing up consumers under pressure and with misleading information. Following contact from EWON and the assistance of Legal Aid NSW, the energy provider cancelled the contracts and transferred the accounts back to their original provider.

This work has led to an independent partnership project with the local Aboriginal Land Council, community housing providers, Origin Energy, Essential Energy, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage and Legal Aid NSW in Dareton. The project aim is to identify short and long term sustainable energy affordability solutions which keep consumers connected to essential services.

The Energy & Water Ombudsman NSW, Janine Young, recently travelled to Dareton to see first-hand the issues for this community. Janine met with the Dareton Aboriginal Land Council CEO and Board where she reiterated EWON’s commitment to making a difference. Our unique position, independent of community, government and industry but with an understanding of the customer issues makes us well placed to facilitate this kind of partnership.

Responding to efforts to secure funding for a community energy home audit and education program as a first step, Origin Energy has agreed to provide $10k to fund in-home audits — provided a business plan justifies the expense. The Land Council is also working with the University of New South Wales which is completing a feasibility study for solar power. It is hoped that this, along with improvements in housing infrastructure, access to customer assistance programs, and attention to individual account issues, will help get the community back on track so that they can manage their energy use and bills into the future.

EWON’s work in Dareton complements our individual complaint handling role and fits with a broader program of strategic stakeholder engagement to address systemic issues and ensure access to Ombudsman services. The longer term objective is to create a sustainable model that can be rolled out to other Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities in NSW.

 

 

 

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Developing and testing a resource kit for intermediaries in remote Indigenous communities

 

 

 

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) is an external dispute resolution service for small business and residential customers who have a complaint about their telephone or internet service in Australia.

 

 

 

In 2013, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) surveyed intermediary organisations in 29 of the larger remote Indigenous communities throughout Australia.

The survey found that almost 60 per cent of intermediary organisations had heard of the TIO, but that many were uncertain about how to complain on their own or their client’s behalf.

Since this time, the TIO has worked with Sydney-based Indigenous consultancy Cox Inall Ridgeway to develop a resource kit for intermediaries in remote communities. The kit includes illustrated case studies, posters and a brochure and is designed to help intermediaries raise awareness of the TIO and help clients lodge complaints if necessary.

Because of the diversity of Indigenous communities, since June 2014, the TIO has been testing these materials in various locations. Most recently, in November 2014 representatives from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman and Financial Ombudsman Service travelled to the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands.

The APY Lands consist of about 10 small communities over a vast area of northern South Australia. Most communities have landline access, but only one community has mobile reception. Few Indigenous people in this area have access to the internet or credit cards and there are no banks or post offices. Most communities have shops in which consumers pay significantly higher prices due to their remoteness.

Lessons learned include that it is difficult to take a one-size-fits-all approach and that it may be necessary to tailor materials to suit particular communities. This might include providing some of the materials in other languages or in video format.

This initiative compliments the TIO’s specialist complaint handling team and builds on strong links the TIO has established with Indigenous consumer organisations throughout Australia. The team members are trained in cultural awareness and have spoken to other specialists in Indigenous complaint handling.  

 

 

 

Victorian Ombudsman

 

The Victorian Ombudsman is working on a number of projects to make it easier for people to access our services

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Single complaints portal
The Victorian Ombudsman (VO) is working on setting up a ‘one stop shop’ for people wanting to make a complaint. This would allow us to have a virtual assistant on our current website which will automatically direct complainants to the right dispute resolution body. We anticipate this will reduce the number of non-jurisdictional complaints we receive by half. The next step will be working with other complaint handling bodies to create a single complaints portal. Complainants will be able to go to one website and be directed to the right place to get help. 

Video-based outreach
We are using video in three projects to increase awareness of what we do:

1.     To increase the number of referrals from third-party advocates, such as community workers, community lawyers and disability advocates — since advocates represent some of the most vulnerable people in Victoria, it is important that they know what we do and how people can make a complaint to us.

2.     Case study videos featuring people from disadvantaged groups we have helped — we hope that other members of these groups will relate to the people in the videos, giving them confidence to complain to us. Groups featured include seniors, youth and people who are financially or socially disadvantaged.

3.     An e-learning package for government and council staff — the package will set out how to work with us, how to improve administrative practices and reduce the number of complaints they receive and how to respond to a complaint. People who complete the package will receive credit towards a recognised qualification. 

Data analytics
We are working with a government department to pilot a new approach to analysing data. Questions we are asking include:

o   how valuable is our current data and how can we increase its value?

o   what unstructured data do we have and how can we use it better?

o   what data don’t we collect that we could?

We plan to use the data to generate insightful reports on the performance of government departments.

 

 

 

Office of the Electricity & Gas Complaints Commissioner

 

Raising the bar for an effective complaint management system, with a new standard for complaint management

 

 

 

The Office of the Electricity & Gas Complaints Commissioner is an industry-based office that provides dispute resolution for New Zealand consumers with electricity and gas complaints.

 

 

 

Every organisation receives complaints. An effective system creates an ‘effective’ environment for complaint management.
If used well, the benefits of developing a complaint management system within an organisation will:

o   create confidence in the public’s dealing with an organisation

o   ensure expressions of dissatisfaction (a complaint) are caught early while the ‘golden hour’ for resolution still exists

o   provide a positive focus for all organisations where complaints can be used to improve operational effectiveness

o   create a cultural ethos to engage and develop the ability of staff to handle complaints.

Reputational risk is a major factor for every organisation. Having an effective complaint management system will protect your reputation. Not every complaint will have a happy ending for an organisation. However, the implementation of a complaint management system, which is pro-active and people-focussed, will minimise that risk. The old adage ‘a complaint is a gift’ is probably now overworked, but a complaint is an opportunity to learn and identify quality improvements. A complaint management system has to be open, accessible and effective. The commitment must begin with the chief executive and senior management to be successful.

What guidance does the new Australia/New Zealand Standard for complaint management in organisations — Guidelines for complaint management in organisations (AS/NZS 10002:2014) provide for organisations?  

A great starting point is the definitions, including of the term ‘complaint’. The new definition of ‘complaint’ — an expression of dissatisfaction made to or about an organisation, brings in expressions of dissatisfaction made through social media. There are guiding principles about enabling and managing complaints. The complaint management framework sets out policy and procedures and importantly the responsibility and authority of those in the organisation. The planning and design section provides for a review process, identifies the resource requirements, training and integration with media activities.

Operation of the complaint management system focuses on communication, in plain English, early resolution, managing the complaint, records, closing the complaint and monitoring implementation of recommendations or remedies. Maintenance and improvement ensures processes are put in place to monitor, review and look at ways of continuing innovation and improvement in the complaint management system.

Appendices include specific guidance for small organisations, accessibility, handling unreasonable conduct by complainants, and the role of information in reducing complaints. Dispute prevention, effective apologies, remaining objective, and options for redress are some of the other topics covered.

The Standard was developed with the assistance of representatives from 14 Australian and New Zealand organisations, including parliamentary and industry Ombudsman schemes, and through public consultation.

See 'Quick clicks' further down for info on how you can get a copy of the new standard.

 

 

 

Ombudsman Western Australia

 

Protecting children and preventing family and domestic violence is best undertaken as both a multi-disciplinary and multi-agency endeavour

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

In November 2014, the Western Australian Ombudsman, together with the Western Australian Department for Child Protection and Family Support, hosted the 4th Australasian Conference on Child Death Inquiries and Reviews.

With the theme  'Achieving Outcomes that Make a Difference', the conference provided delegates with the opportunity to consider a range of topics critical to the success of child death inquiries and reviews, including:

o   Opportunities for multi-agency and cross-border collaboration

o   Emerging themes and challenges in child protection and the prevention of family and domestic violence, and the role of reviews in identifying and addressing these themes and challenges

o   Leading, and learning, in child protection agencies following a child death.

This important conference, hosted for the first time in Perth, Western Australia, provided a program of national and international leaders in reviews of child deaths, serious injuries to children, and family and domestic violence fatalities.

 “The gathering of such a diverse range of legal, health, coronial, child protection and other professionals provides an obvious reminder that protecting children and preventing family and domestic violence is best undertaken as both a multi-disciplinary and multi-agency endeavour. It is a shared responsibility that is made stronger by our shared understanding and enriched by collaboration and co-operation,” said Western Australian Ombudsman Chris Field.

The conference featured keynote addresses from Professor Donna Chung, Head of the Department of Social Work at Curtin University, and Victoria Hovane, Managing Director of Tjallara Consulting. Former Director-General of the Department for Child Protection and Family Support, Terry Murphy, and Jayne Forsdike, from Newcastle Children’s Social Care, also gave presentations to delegates. It also featured highly qualified panellists from child death and family and domestic violence fatality review bodies and child protection agencies in Australia and New Zealand.

Key topics covered in panel discussions included:

o   Child Death Review: Achieving Outcomes That Make a Difference

o   Prevention of Youth Suicide

o   Issues and Challenges for Family and Domestic Violence Fatality Review Jurisdictions and Child Protection Agencies.

 

 

 

Quick clicks

On the ANZOA website

o   Meeting performance benchmarks through principles and practices: accessibility, independence, fairness, accountability, efficiency, effectiveness

o   Ombudsman - a model of dispute resolution, 200 years in the making

o   Correct use of the term Ombudsman

Related to the articles in this issue

o   Commonwealth Ombudsman's 2013-14 PID report, PID guides and fact sheets: www.pid.ombudsman.gov.au

o   Energy and Water Ombudsman (Victoria): latest Affordability Report

o   New standard: Guidelines for complaint management in organisations (AS/NZS 10002:2014) - Standards Australia at www.saiglobal.com.au or Standards New Zealand at www.standards.co.nz

Contact us at info@anzoa.com.au

 

 

 

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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