Tragic case highlights Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages’ failings

Monday 30 January 2017
The experience of a grieving mother attempting to obtain a birth certificate for her dead child has sparked much needed improvements at the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, following a Victorian Ombudsman investigation.
Ms X, whose twin boys were born premature with one dying at age four and a half months, spent 12 months and contacted the Registry more than 20 times trying to obtain accurate birth certificates for her sons, and a revised death certificate for her deceased child.
The Ombudsman began an investigation into the case in August 2016 following a complaint from Ms X and amid an environment of an increasing number of complaints to the Victorian Ombudsman about the Registry.
The investigation found the mother was given conflicting advice, not advised of the outcomes of her applications, made to repeat her requests and asked for information she had already provided.
Tabling the Investigation into the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Handling of a Complaint, Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass said the case illustrates how uncertainty, distress and grief can be caused or prolonged by the Registry’s:
  • poor record keeping and administrative practices
  • lack of clear policies
  • agency understaffing
  • long wait times on calls
  • delays in actioning requests and follow ups
  • poor complaints handling.
“Given the sensitive nature of much of its caseload, we would expect the Registry to fulfil its statutory obligations with efficiency and accuracy. But as this investigation demonstrates, far too often, this did not happen,” Ms Glass said.
“Sadly, Ms X’s experience with the Registry was not unique. My office had received an increasing number of complaints about the Registry and its delays in issuing certificates or responding to complaints,” said Ms Glass.
The Victorian Ombudsman recommendations included that the Registry review its business practices and performance through an external audit agency in 18 months; consider the particular circumstances of each individual case and ensure applicants who have paid a fee are notified if their application is non-compliant.
Ms Glass welcomed the response of the Department of Justice and Regulation in accepting the recommendations:
“The Department has acknowledged that the Registry has been experiencing serious service delivery problems, and happily, matters are improving with more staff engaged, improved technology and the adoption of complaint handling procedures. The further recommendations contained in this report will help the Registry do what all Victorians should reasonably expect from this key public service. ”
Media contact: Rory Cahill Tel 03 9613 6235 | Mob 0409 936 235
Further information: Tel 03 9613 6222 | Regional (landline) 1800 806 314 | Follow @VicOmbudsman