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PHSO backs plans for single public services ombudsman

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) has backed government plans to merge all public service ombudsmen into one organisation, saying it will provide better value for money and improved public services.

The plan to merge the ombudsmen was included as a draft Bill in the Queen’s Speech. It involves merging the functions of the PHSO with the Local Government Ombudsman and potentially the Housing Ombudsman.

According to the government this will provide a “simplified, improved and more accessible final tier of redress for customers of public services”.

PHSO Dame Julie Mellor is happy that the government has made a commitment to reform, saying that the ombudsman schemes have not kept pace with the changes to how services are delivered.

She said that a single organisation would make it simpler for members of the public to make complaints.

“We want everyone using public services to be confident that when they need to complain it will be straightforward and fair, and will make a difference. Almost four out of ten of people that are unhappy with public services do not raise a complaint, because they do not believe it will make a difference,” Mellor said.

“People shouldn’t have to guess whether or not the service they are receiving falls within or without the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction. We can and do investigate complaints about public services provided by the private and third sector. However all public services delivered in England should be subject to our investigation unless specifically exempt. This would help plug any holes in ombudsman provision, such as certain aspects of primary and secondary education.”

Currently the ombudsmen currently deal with complaints separately if service users have complained to providers but are unhappy with the outcome. The PHSO deals with central government issues and the NHS, while the Local Government Ombudsman is responsible for councils and the Housing Ombudsman dealing with disputes between landlords and tenants.

The new ombudsman would be independent of government and accountable to Parliament.

A consultation on the proposal to create a single ombudsman is currently ongoing and closes on 16 June.

Local Government Ombudsman Jane Martin said:  “We welcome the contribution that this consultation makes to the debate about the future role ombudsmen can play in remedying injustice and improving public services.

“We will be responding in due course and encourage everybody with an interest in the work of the LGO, including users of our service and bodies within our jurisdiction, to contribute their thoughts to the consultation.”

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