Resolving complaints to the Ombudsman early

 
Wednesday 25 July 2018
 
A $20,000 debt charged against an Aboriginal victim of domestic violence and a four-month delay in a TAFE providing nursing students with placements are among the matters remedied by the Victorian Ombudsman’s office.
 
Tabling the Complaints to the Ombudsman: resolving them early casebook in the
Victorian Parliament today, Ombudsman Deborah Glass said about 40,000 Victorians contacted her office each year with complaints about government bodies. While her office is well known for its investigations, Ms Glass said most complaints could be resolved informally, taking less time and resources than an investigation.
 
“For most of the 40,000 people who contact us each year, an investigation is not what is needed,” Ms Glass said. “Many complaints can be resolved with a phone call, a few enquiries to an agency to clarify the situation, or an explanation provided to a member of the public.”
 
In late 2016, the Victorian Ombudsman created an Early Resolution Team which identifies matters that can be resolved informally, focusing on practical outcomes. The team now handles about 85 per cent of approaches to the Ombudsman, closing most within 30 days.
 
The casebook includes 13 summaries of matters dealt with by the Early Resolution Team, grouped under five themes - ‘Quick fix’, ‘Encouraging dialogue’, ‘Applying discretion’, ‘Influencing policy’ and ‘Resolving systemic issues informally’.
 
Some of the cases include:
  • An Aboriginal woman was charged $20,000 for damage to a public housing property after the Department of Health and Human Services visited the property when she was not present. The woman was a victim of domestic violence which was also the cause of the property damage. Following contact from the Ombudsman’s office, the department waived the debt and placed the woman on a priority housing list. It also said staff would undertake cultural consultation prior to progressing with evictions, debts or abandonments in all complex cases involving Aboriginal tenants.
 
  • Twenty-four students enrolled in a nursing diploma with Bendigo Kangan Institute of TAFE had been expecting to finish their course in November 2016. That was until the TAFE told them their placements would not take place until the following March. The placements were also to be in regional Victoria, rather than metropolitan Melbourne where the course had been held. Students were worried about missing out on employment and further study opportunities due to the delay, and about the costs of organising accommodation in regional Victoria. After being contacted by the Ombudsman’s office, the TAFE decided to make a $600 ex-gratia payment to each student for their accommodation costs and prioritised placing students who had pending employment / further study offers
 
  • A small business owner was issued a $3,109 fine for traffic offences committed in a vehicle that his business had purchased recently. He provided the Traffic Camera Office and then Civic Compliance Victoria (now Fines Victoria) with proof his business did not own the vehicle at the time of the offences. Both agencies refused to withdraw the fine because the business owner was unable to nominate who was driving the vehicle at the time of the offence. At our request, Civic Compliance Victoria agreed to reconsider the evidence; later withdrawing the fine against the business man after identifying the responsible person interstate.
 
  • A woman who was required to use an alcohol interlock device took her car to a car wash and got out of the car so it could be cleaned. The device sounded twice while she was out of the car and two violations were recorded when she did not provide breath samples. VicRoads told the woman the two violations meant the device must stay on her car for another six months, costing her at least $1,100 in rental and administrative fees. We asked VicRoads to reconsider its decision – they agreed to do this as the woman had provided a clean sample when she returned to her car.
 
Ms Glass said many members of the public would not need to escalate complaints to her office if government agencies were more willing to exercise discretion when applying policies and procedures.
 
“Sometimes it takes the gentle nudge of the Ombudsman’s elbow to ensure agencies do the right thing,” she said.
 
 
Media contact: Ainslie Gowan | Tel 03 9613 6235 | Mob 0409 936 235 |  ainslie.gowan@ombudsman.vic.gov.au