Water customers have no access to watchdog

People unhappy with Irish Water have no independent means of redress, ombudsman Peter Tyndall said yesterday.

The ombudsman has called for the extension of his jurisdiction to include public services provided by private bodies.

If people had complaints about Irish Water, they had nowhere to direct them, Mr Tyndall said when launching his first annual report as ombudsman yesterday.

“Irish Water went out of my jurisdiction as ombudsman, an entirely unintended consequence of the way it was set up,” said Mr Tyndall who has urged Government to reverse the situation.

Mr Tyndall also confirmed that Irish Water was not under the jurisdiction of the Commission for Energy Regulation either.

“It is indicative of something that has been happening over time as more public services started to be delivered by private bodies. Waste is a classic example.

“I am sure that is not what was intended and it needs to be put right.”

Mr Tyndall said the European Union’s alternative dispute resolution directive that required alternative dispute mechanisms to be in place in every EU state by the middle of next year provided an opportunity for the State to put things right.

“The pattern of public service delivery is getting more complex but that does not mean that citizens’ access to redress should be more complex,” he said.

“It needs to be simplified because people struggle to understand where they can take their complaint.”

Fianna Fáil’s environment spokesman, Barry Cowen, said his party published a bill last month to include Irish Water, Bord Gáis Éireann and the Commission for Energy Regulation under the remit of the ombudsman’s office and urged the Government to take it on board.

The ombudsman’s office received 3,190 complaints last year and dealt with more than 11,000 inquiries.

The largest number of complaints involved the Department of Social Protection at 491.

Mr Tyndall said complaints to his office were “creeping up” this year and he expected that it would reach around 3,500 by the end of the year.

He feared, however, that people were not being told by public bodies that they had a right to complain to his office and that some people simply did not have the energy to come to his office because of the length of time it was taking to process complaints locally.

Mr Tyndall said he was surprised at the relatively low number of health complaints — 77 of the 310 complaints against the HSE last year were against hospitals.

Cases made

* St Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin, apologised to the family of a woman who did not have a recommended CT scan at the hospital in 2007 and died of lung cancer a year later.

* A woman who was incorrectly refused invalidity pension twice by the Department of Social Protection. Received €91,496 in arrears.

* Laois County Council imposed a restriction on its housing waiting that had no legal basis — it refused a woman’s social housing appeal because she had not lived within the council area for six months or longer.

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