Committee Bill set to ease complaints process against public bodies

Session: Session currently unavailable

Date: 11 February 2016

Reference: COFMDFM 02/15/16

The Public Services Ombudsman Bill will strengthen people’s right of redress, where maladministration by public bodies causes injustice.  The Bill, introduced by the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMDFM), passed its Final Stage during yesterday’s (Wednesday) Plenary debate.

The Bill will make it easier to make a complaint about a public body, and increase the Ombudsman’s remit to include schools, universities and further education colleges.

The Bill is the first to be brought forward by a statutory Assembly Committee and it creates the new office of Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman, or ‘NIPSO’, replacing the two existing offices of the Assembly Ombudsman and Commissioner for Complaints.

Committee Chairperson, Mike Nesbitt, MLA said: “The NIPSO will investigate complaints against Northern Ireland government departments and local councils. Schools, universities and further education colleges will also now be included in the Ombudsman’s remit – this is not currently the case.

“People will no longer be required to ask an MLA to raise their complaint with the Ombudsman – although they can still seek the help of their MLA. Once a public body’s own complaints procedure has been exhausted, people can go directly to the NIPSO.  

“Where the NIPSO upholds a complaint but the public body does not follow the NIPSO’s recommendations, the complainant may use the NIPSO’s report as the basis for county court proceedings.

“The new NIPSO legislation will be the first in the UK to provide a power to launch investigations on the Ombudsman’s own initiative - where maladministration appears to be systemic. This could be particularly useful in areas where vulnerable citizens are unable or unwilling to make individual complaints.”

Assembly Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Dr Tom Frawley added: ‘I am delighted that this Bill has reached final stage and my office is     preparing for the challenges of new powers and new bodies in remit.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Assembly Commission, the Chair, Members and staff of the OFMDFM Committee for their tireless commitment in sponsoring and developing this new Ombudsman law. The NIPSO Bill represents the most modern piece of Ombudsman legislation which is already recognised as an international benchmark in the Ombudsman community’.

Mr Nesbitt MLA concluded: “Progress in developing the Bill and its passage through the Assembly has been slower than the Committee would have liked. However, we wanted to ensure that we got the legislation right. The Committee is grateful to the Ad Hoc Committee which was temporarily set up to undertake a thorough examination of the Bill, and to Ministers and all other stakeholders for their valuable input.” 

ENDS

Notes to Editor:

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