Tusla’s handling of complaints ‘consistently poor’

Ombudsman Peter Tyndall.
Ombudsman Peter Tyndall.

The Office of the Ombudsman is investigating Tusla’s handling of child sexual abuse allegations.

“We are very close to finalising an investigation into the way that Tusla (the child and family agency) manages complaints but particularly looking at issues about how they deal with accusations of child sex abuse against adults,” said Ombudsman Peter Tyndall.

While the final report is not due to be published for a number of weeks, Mr Tyndall outlined some of his office’s recommendations.

“We believe that they [complaints] need to be processed independently, objectively and, above all, promptly so that either, if they are upheld that the proper child protection measures are taken and if they’re not upheld that the person’s name is cleared promptly,” he said yesterday.

He was speaking at the launch of his office’s annual report for 2016.

Mr Tyndall was asked why the Tusla investigation began in the first place.

“It had to do with a series of events we had, where we received assurances that certain steps would be taken, that there would be a national policy in place, that staff would be trained in that policy and that that policy would be followed,” he said.

“We found then, that we were getting subsequent cases where it was evident that those assurances were not being delivered on in practice.

“We had inconsistent practice around the country in dealing with issues and we had evidence that some areas of the coun- try were refusing to follow the central practice for whatever reason.

“So we felt that we had to escalate the matter at that point.”

The Ombudsman said his office “found consistently that complaint handling in Tusla was poor”.

Overall, his office received more than 3,000 complaints from the public last year on a range of issues.

A total of 1,120 complaints about government departments or offices were examined, some 841 against local authorities, and 625 against the HSE and social care services.

It took up to three months to examine 79% of cases. In terms of outcomes, 27% of complaints were “upheld or partially upheld”, 54% of complaints were not upheld and in 19% of cases, assistance was provided.

This year marks the first time the ombudsman’s office could accept complaints from asylum seekers living in direct provision centres.

Mr Tyndall outlined the nature of the complaints yesterday.

“We’ve had, since we started, a small number of complaints, around about 14 formal complaints at this stage,” he said.

“As I say we’ve been resolving a lot of issues as they arise rather than treating them as formal complaints.

“The weekly allowance, exceptional needs payments, transfers - those are the kinds of things that have come forward.

“Some about accommodation, some complaints about staff members, food, no reply to correspondence and access to healthcare.”

€20k welfare bill ends in €700 refund

A woman who received a bill for €19,900 from the Department of Social Protection, had it turned into a refund of €700 following a complaint she made to the office of the ombudsman.

She had no idea how this debt had arisen and firstly wrote to the department for an explanation; however, she failed to receive a response.

The woman then complained to the ombudsman, who began an examination of the incident by contacting her local Department of Social Protection office.

The department began a review of the woman’s social welfare payments.

It was discovered that an application, made by the woman to the department, had not been processed correctly.

The woman’s income had been recalculated a number of times resulting in different incomes. Then in considering her husband’s income, the department had failed to take account of an illness that reduced his income.

The result of the review was that the woman not only had no debt but she was owed a refund of €700 by the department.

Man incorrectly identified as threat

A man complained to the Office of the Ombudsman after he was incorrectly identified as a threat to staff on a hospital computer system.

The man in question was attending the emergency department at Mayo University Hospital and a security guard was called to be present with him during his appointment.

It transpired that the man was listed as a threat to staff on the hospital’s electronic patient information system.

Following the Ombudsman’s examination of the man’s complaint, the hospital said it could not explain why the information was on its computer system.

It was also not possible to identify who put the information on the system as it did not record who made the entry.

It was clarified that the man was never a threat to the staff, the information was removed from the system, and the hospital apologised to the man.

The hospital also undertook a review into its own computer system, with staff receiving training.

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