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Criteria published for Public Services Ombudsman Own Initiative investigations

The NI Public Services Ombudsman has recently published criteria for investigations the Ombudsman conducts under Own Initiative powers, which came into effect in April this year.

What are "Own Initiative" powers?

The Ombudsman considers complaints of maladministration against public bodies and can provide recommendations to address this, with a view to improving public services. Examples of maladministration can include failing to adhere to correct procedures, failing to advise people of any rights of appeal and poor complaint handling, amongst other factors. Generally, the Ombudsman responds to complaints received from members of the public. However, Own Initiative powers allow the Ombudsman to investigate a public body if she suspects systemic maladministration even though no complaint has been received. 

When can the Ombudsman use "own initiative" powers?

In order to investigate under these powers, the Ombudsman must establish that certain criteria exist. The Ombudsman must be satisfied that at least one of the following criteria apply:

  • The issue of concern has been identified by the Ombudsman to be one of public interest;
  • The issue of concern affects a number of individuals or a particular group of people;
  • The investigation has the potential to improve public services.

Additionally, where at least one of these criteria is present, the Ombudsman can only investigate if investigation of the chosen issue is the best and most proportionate use of investigative resources.

To date, no investigations have been opened under these new powers, but it is likely that the first investigations will commence next year.

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