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New NI Public Services Ombudsman given extended powers

Brian Thompson, Marie-Anderson and Ursula OHare

Marie Anderson pictured in 2014 at the launch of NI Ombudsman’s report on administrative justice, with Brian Thompson, University of Liverpool School of Law, and Ursula O’Hare, Law Centre (NI)

 

Marie Anderson has been appointed as the first Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO).

The Office of the NIPSO has been created by the Ombudsman (NI) Act 2016, a new piece of Assembly legislation aimed at making it easier for the public to complain about public services and at increasing the public accountability of public service providers.

The Ombudsman independently investigates complaints about a wide range of bodies spanning the health, housing, local government and education sectors.

In addition, the public can also complain to the Ombudsman about the actions of the Northern Ireland Audit Office and the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission.

The new NIPSO has been given a wider remit and greater investigative powers than its predecessors, and will be able to:

  • publish investigation reports in the public interest
  • investigate complaints about social work decisions
  • investigate complaints about maladministration by government departments in commercial and contractual matters (including procurement) access legal advice that is relevant to an investigation
  • take any action in addition to or instead of an investigation, such as conciliation

Other key changes include:

  • people can complain directly to NIPSO (there is no requirement to obtain MLA sponsorship to make a complaint about a Government Department)
  • providers of public services must signpost complainants to NIPSO when at the conclusion of their complaints process
  • people must bring a complaint to NIPSO within six months of completing the public service’s internal complaints process.

The new NIPSO replaces the previous offices of Assembly Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints.

In addition to her role as Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman, Marie Anderson has also been appointed as the Northern Ireland Local Government Commissioner for Standards.

The functions of the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman have also been transferred to her Office.

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