A record number of complaints have been made to the Ombudsman about public services, with a significant increase in concerns raised about local authorities.
The latest annual report from the Ombudsman, Ger Deering, also shows people lodging complaints about the Passport Service - mostly over delays processing first-time passport applications, with the issue persisting in 2022.
The report also highlights individual cases, including a nursing home that would not give a written explanation to a family after a resident with dementia was found 3km from the home with facial injuries.
According to the report, the woman's family made a complaint to the home following the incident, but the nursing home initially refused to discuss the case with the family, only later giving a verbal response.
The home refused to respond to the family's complaint in writing and once the Ombudsman became involved, the nursing home also initially refused to provide information to the watchdog.
Following further discussions, the Ombudsman found that the home had carried out an investigation into the incident but the response to the family’s complaint was not in accordance with its own complaints policy.
The nursing home eventually wrote to the family to apologise and according to the Ombudsman: "Arising from this case and similar incidents, the Ombudsman has contacted the Department of Health with a view to making it a legal requirement for nursing homes to provide written responses to complaints."
Overall, the Ombudsman received 4,004 complaints last year - a 17% increase on 2020, and the highest ever in the 38-year history of the office. Complaints about local authorities accounted for the largest proportion of the increase, with 1,290 complaints - an increase of 45%.
Housing complaints made up 61% of that increase while planning complaints and roads/traffic complaints also rose significantly. Overall, 227 complaints were made about Dublin City Council, 101 complaints about Cork City Council and 70 about Limerick City and County Council.
The Ombudsman has since drafted a Model Complaint Handling Procedure for the sector and asked four local authorities to trial and provide feedback, with the final Procedure to be disseminated to all local authorities this year.
Writing in the report, his first as Ombudsman, Ger Deering said that while the pandemic had shown the value of public service, "public services are not always as good as they could or should be, mistakes and poor decisions are made".
There was a 26% increase in complaints about the health sector, including about the HSE (325 complaints), public hospitals and Tusla (118 complaints), and complaints about nursing homes and Direct Provision also increased, while complaints about Government Departments and Offices fell by 12%.
The Ombudsman’s Office completed 3,961 complaints in 2021, up 13%, and responded to 6,125 enquiries, an increase of 65% on 2020. Of those, 22% were upheld and over half were not.
Other interventions included a woman receiving €2,200 in arrears after wrongly receiving an electricity allowance for five years, a student having a travel grant unfairly reduced, and a Department incorrectly seeking repayment of €5,400 in child benefit.