Ombudsmen specialise in dispute resolution.

Using a range of dispute resolution techniques — including negotiation, conciliation, investigation, opinions and recommendations and, in the case of industry-based Ombudsmen, decisions that bind service providers.
Ombudsmen specialise in complaints handling dispute resolution

Operational benchmarks

The offices of ANZOA's members observe the 'Benchmarks for Industry-based Customer Dispute Resolution' (CDR Benchmarks). Originally developed in 1997, these benchmarks were reviewed and republished in February 2015.
CDR Benchmarks: Principles and Purposes
CDR Benchmarks: Key Practices

The history of Ombudsman goes back over 200 years.

The Ombudsman model of alternative dispute resolution is well known for independent and impartial review and investigation. The term Ombudsman commonly describes both the person who holds the position of Ombudsman and the office they head up. Gender-neutral, the term applies whether the Ombudsman is male or female. And the plural form, Ombudsmen, is now widely accepted and used.
In Australia and New Zealand, Ombudsman offices handle hundreds of thousands of enquiries and complaints from citizens and consumers each year. Generally, an Ombudsman also has a responsibility to help improve service or administration, especially where complaints indicate there may be more general or systemic problems.

The first Ombudsman was established in Sweden in 1809 as a parliamentary inspector of the bureaucracy.

The Ombudsman concept has since migrated and expanded beyond its birthplace in Sweden to other countries and applications. New Zealand's Parliamentary Ombudsman was one of the first in the world, set up in 1962. Parliamentary Ombudsmen were set up across Australia in the 1970s and early 1980s — Western Australia (1971), South Australia (1972), Victoria (1973), New South Wales (1974), Queensland (1975), the Commonwealth (1977), Tasmania (1978), Northern Territory (1981) and the ACT (1989).

A reference to the office of the Ombudsman now equally refers to the large number of industry-based Ombudsmen.

In both Australia and New Zealand, the first industry-based Ombudsman offices were in banking — in Australia in 1989 and in New Zealand in 1992. There have been many reasons for the growth of Ombudsman offices. Among them have been privatisation of public services and a desire to promote industry self-regulatory mechanisms — including industries being encouraged to take responsibility for their own complaint handling.
The growth in Ombudsmen has also paralleled the growth in concern for access to justice and interest in alternative dispute resolution. It is clear that Ombudsmen were conceived, developed (and have flourished) in no small part because of a recognition that traditional justice mechanisms — despite their fundamentally important role in contributing to the maintenance of the rule of law and the provision of high quality resolution of disputes — also had shortcomings for consumers, particularly low-income consumers.
These included problems with (1) accessibility and, in particular, the cost of dispute resolution; (2) the time taken to have disputes resolved; and (3) the extent to which courts and tribunals were not equipped to, or able to, identify thematic or system-wide problems arising from disputes and refer those problems to agencies (such as departments of consumer affairs or regulators) who might be in a position to encourage their resolution.

The expansion of the Ombudsman institution has also been one of scope.

Parliamentary Ombudsmen now undertake a much wider range of activities than was the case traditionally.
For example, in addition to the 'classical' Ombudsman function of dealing with complaints about government services, Ombudsmen now inspect telecommunications intercepts and the exercise of other covert powers, investigate public interest disclosures (commonly referred to as whistle-blower complaints), investigate complaints from overseas students, review the deaths of certain children and family and domestic violence fatalities, and monitor and review a range of legislation (for example, legislation regulating criminal organisations and the issuing of criminal penalty infringement notices).
Some Ombudsmen are also undertaking dual roles, combining their Parliamentary role with that of an industry-based Ombudsman. For example, the Tasmanian Ombudsman and Western Australian Ombudsman both undertake the role of Energy Ombudsman for their respective states.

Use and misuse of the name

Where problems arise in an industry or an area of government services, the call for an Ombudsman commonly follows. This is a testament to the high level of public respect for the independence, integrity and impartiality of Ombudsman offices. However, there is concern about the inappropriate use of the name Ombudsman to describe bodies that don't conform to, or show an understanding of, the accepted Ombudsman model and its 200 year history.
If the concept of Ombudsman is applied inappropriately, public confidence in the role and independence of the Ombudsman institution is at risk of being undermined and diminished.
Using the term Ombudsman to describe an office with regulatory, disciplinary and/or prosecutorial functions confuses the role of Ombudsman with that of a regulatory body. An 'ombudsman' office under the direction or control of an industry sector or a government Minister is not independent. An office set up within a company or government agency as an 'internal ombudsman' is not independent.
Read more about ANZOA's campaign to stop misuse of the name