Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the British and Irish Ombudsman Association (BIOA)

This submission is made on behalf of the Chair and Executive Committee of the Association which was established in 1991 and includes as members all major ombudsman schemes and complaint handling bodies in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland, comprising around 65 schemes in total. The Association’s objectives include:

encouraging, developing and safeguarding the role and title of Ombudsmen in both the public and private sectors;

setting criteria for the recognition of Ombudsman offices by the Association;

formally recognising those persons or offices who satisfy the criteria;

facilitating mutual learning and providing services to members designed to develop best practice; and

working to raise the profile of Ombudsmen and the understanding of their work.

The Association welcomes this opportunity to comment on the work and activities of the Local Government Ombudsman, but with particular regard to the criteria for the membership of Ombudsman Offices and its principles relating to governance and good complaint handling.

BIOA-complaint Ombudsman Schemes

The LGO is fully compliant with the Association’s criteria. Compliant schemes must meet the following five key criteria:

Independence.

Fairness.

Effectiveness.

Openness and transparency.

Accountability.

This is the model endorsed by the Cabinet Office in its “Guidance to Departments” on Ombudsmen (copy enclosed). Paragraph 4 of the Guidance states:

An effective (and BIOA compliant) Ombudsman scheme can be the hallmark of fair redress.

The full Criteria for the recognition of Ombudsman Membership of the Association is in Schedule 1 to the Association’s Rules (copy attached).

Governance and Good Complaint Handling Principles

The Association has published guides to the principles of good complaint handling and good governance (copies attached). The principle of independence is paramount, and whatever governance arrangements are in place, it is vital that they support and promote the integrity of the scheme and office holder and, above all, protect the independence of the office holder, particularly from those over whom the scheme has jurisdiction.

In the case of the LGO, its relationship with CLG, its sponsor department, is vital and it should not, in our view, be treated as any other “arms-length body” as that might impinge adversely on independence. Also of importance is sufficient funding to allow the scheme to deliver quality outcomes efficiently, albeit whist representing good value for money.

The Local Government Ombudsman is a very active member of the British and Irish Ombudsman Association, participating in its activities and governance, including permanent representation of its Executive Committee. BIOA is happy to provide any further assistance to the Committee and willing to participate as required in future consultations and discussions.

March 2012

Prepared 16th July 2012