Why informal resolution matters

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Senior citizens unable to file statements online, a ratepayer charged over $7,000 to remove a tree, and the worried mother of a prisoner are just some of the members of the public Victorian Ombudsman staff deal with every day.

Tabling the Ombudsman enquiries: Resolving complaints informally casebook in the Victorian Parliament today, Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass said that while her office’s large own motion investigations gained the most public attention, the day-to-day work of her office can effect real change in people’s lives.

"I am tabling this report to draw attention to the less public work of my office - resolving complaints informally - and to highlight some of the common mistakes agencies could easily fix," Ms Glass said.

"Many complaints are resolved informally simply through the intervention of Ombudsman staff.

"In these cases, I cannot help reflecting it is a pity an agency’s management did not grip the problem before it came to my office."

Grouped under three themes – ‘Minor mistakes with larger consequences’, ‘Responding quickly to serious concerns’ and ‘One complaint can fix an issue for many’ – the casebook comprises 14 summaries of matters dealt with by Victorian Ombudsman staff during 2015/16.

Examples of cases that feature in the report include:

  • A resident wanted to remove a tree from her nature strip in order to build a driveway. The council informed her the removal of the tree did not meet its tree removal policy, but that it would allow her to remove the tree if she paid a fee including an “amenity value” of over $7,000. Following Victorian Ombudsman enquiries the council apologised to the resident and advised it would not charge the amenity fee.
  • A prisoner’s mother concerned about her son’s health and safety was worried that the prison had not conducted a medical or psychiatric assessment upon his arrival in the prison. The mother said her son had a number of mental health conditions and disabilities and that she was worried he would not be safe in a mainstream unit. Victorian Ombudsman staff became involved and, while the prisoner had been assessed on arrival, another examination was arranged that identified the prisoner did have an intellectual disability.
  • An advocate for a group of senior citizens from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds raised concerns about Consumer Affairs Victoria’s (CAV) decision to transition to only accepting annual statements online from incorporated associations – such as clubs the CALD citizens belonged to. Following Victorian Ombudsman enquiries CAV agreed to accept both paper and electronic statements from incorporated associations.

“The cases in this report all were chosen to reflect some of the diversity of agencies and types of complaints my office receives," Ms Glass said.

"They are typical of the thousands of enquiries we completed last year – each, in their own modest way, an example of my office’s commitment to a fairer Victoria."

Report: Ombudsman enquiries: Resolving complaints informally

Media contact: Mob 0409 936 235 | vomedia@ombudsman.vic.gov.au