The Public Services Ombudsman – a post created in 2005 – is the public office responsible for handling complaints from members of the public who believe there’s been poor administration, code of conduct breach or failure in key public services. Those services include the NHS, local government, social housing providers and the Welsh Government.
In recent years there’ve been calls from Senedd committee inquiry witnesses and others for the powers of the Ombudsman to be extended. There’s also a desire to “future-proof” the office and make their services more “citizen-centred”.
This Bill is unusual in that it’s been drafted by a Committee instead of a member of the Welsh Government or backbench AM. This is because as the Welsh Government is subject to scrutiny from the Ombudsman, the law had to come from somewhere else.
The Lowdown: Four Key Proposals in the Bill
1. Making the complaints process less daunting
The Bill aims to widen access to the complaints process by allowing people to give oral evidence in person instead of having to do everything by writing – which may put off people with learning difficulties or other vulnerable people with poor literacy skills.
2. Allowing the Ombudsman to conduct their own investigations
At the moment, the Public Services Ombudsman is only allowed to investigate cases brought to them. The Bill will allow them to make interventions and carry out inquiries into “systemic failures” before people have to come to him or her with complaints.
3. Improve complaints handling across the public sector
The Bill will give the Ombudsman the power to set out how complaints should be handled across key public services in order to make the system to be more consistent. This will also make data comparisons easier between different parts of the public sector.
4. Extend the Ombudsman’s reach
The Bill will extend the Ombudsman’s powers so they are able to investigate complaints relating to private health services and private care homes.
How much will the Public Services Ombudsman Bill cost?
Somewhere between £1.83million and £1.95 million spread across five years. Most of the additional costs are related to allowing the Ombudsman to conduct their own investigations and allowing oral evidence to be given.