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21 January 2019
Ombudsman proposes investigation into Department’s handling of Personal Independence Payments (PIPs)
The Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman has informed the Department for Communities that she is proposing, under new powers, to launch an investigation into the way the Department administers Personal Independence Payments (PIPs). The welfare benefit replaced Disability Living Allowance in June 2016.
The investigation would be the first under the Ombudsman’s ‘own initiative’ power, which allows for an investigation to take place where there is a suspicion of systemic maladministration.
Ombudsman Marie Anderson has written to the Department’s Permanent Secretary stating that since June 2016 there have been a significant number of complaints about PIPs to her Office.
She also noted the high number of the Department’s decisions which have been upheld by Mandatory Reconsideration, but then overturned by an Appeal Tribunal.
Following an assessment of the Department’s procedures, she stated that she was satisfied that the criteria for an own initiative investigation have been met.
Ombudsman investigations are normally only carried out on receipt of a specific complaint. However, the ‘own initiative’ power allows the Ombudsman to act even when no complaint has been received.
The Ombudsman has received acknowledgement from the Department that they have received notification of the proposal, and she awaits further information.
Under the terms of the Public Services Ombudsman (Northern Ireland) Act 2016, the Ombudsman must publish a report of any ‘own initiative’ investigation.
5 October 2018
The Ombudsman will be hosting an ‘Own Initiative Event’ in Parliament Buildings, Belfast on 22 and 23 October 2018
Own initiative investigations enable an Ombudsman to commence an investigation without having received a specific complaint.
The power to conduct own initiative investigation is now a characteristic of the majority of Ombudsman schemes around the world, but is an unfamiliar concept within the United Kingdom. The Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman is the first such body within the UK to obtain this power.
The use of the own initiative power varies considerably between Ombudsman schemes. Within some jurisdictions it is used quite frequently, while in others it is used far less often and considered a power required only for “special” situations. Many Ombudsman offices also conduct systemic investigations, which look at the root causes that give rise to a significant number of individual complaints. Most, though not all, own initiative investigations therefore also have a systemic component.
The conference will bring together practitioners from around the world in order to exchange best practices and expertise. It will enable the Public Services Ombudsman to hear and learn from academics and renowned international experts in the field of own initiative investigations.
The President of the International Ombudsman Institute, Mr Peter Tyndall, will also be launching the 3rd IOI Best Practice paper on own initiative investigations at the conference.
The Ombudsman’s first own initiative investigation is expected to be announced later this year.
7 May 2018
In addition to investigating complaints from members of the public, the Ombudsman also has the power to undertake investigations where she has a reasonable suspicion of systemic maladministration or injustice.
This power, which commenced on 1 April 2018, allows her to proceed with an investigation even where no complaint has been made. It is anticipated that such investigations will help identify and address systemic failures to ensure significant failings are addressed across sectors as a whole.
Preparation and scoping work for the ‘Own Initiative’ project is now underway, with a number of policies and procedures being drawn up by a Project Team within the Office. These include a set of criteria for investigations, frameworks and timescales for communicating with bodies who are the subject of investigations, formats for reporting on investigations, and a process for reviewing implementation of recommendations made by the Ombudsman.
Publication of this material, and an event to launch the Own Initiative power, will take place later in the year.