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Department of Social Protection pursued a woman for €20,000, but she was actually owed €700

The incident was included as a case study in the Office of the Ombudsman’s annual report for 2016.

Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

THE DEPARTMENT OF Social Protection wrote to a woman saying that she had been overpaid nearly €20,000, but she was in fact owed money.

The woman received correspondence from her local Social Protection Office last year saying that an overpayment of €19,900 had been made to her.

The woman was unaware of how this debt arose. She wrote to the office looking for an explanation but received no response.

The woman then contacted the Office of the Ombudsman who told the Department to look into the woman’s query.

The Department did this and discovered that the woman’s application had not been processed properly. The woman’s income had been recalculated a number of times.

The Department took into account the woman’s husband’s income but failed to take account of an illness that reduced this.

In the end, the Department discovered that not only had there been no overpayment but that the woman was actually entitled to a refund of about €700.

Annual report

The incident was included as a case study in the Office of the Ombudsman’s annual report for 2016, which was launched today.

The Ombudsman deals with complaints from people who feel they have been unfairly treated by certain public bodies – for example, government departments, local authorities and publicly funded third-level education institutions.

Last year, the Ombudsman Peter Tyndall received a total of 3,067 complaints to his office (down slightly on last year).

Over three-quarters of these were closed within three months and 96% were closed within 12 months.

Close to 1,700 of the complaints were properly examined (the others were either discontinued, withdrawn, or outside the remit of the office).

Of the case, almost a quarter (23%) were fully upheld and 4% were partially upheld. Some assistance was provided for one fifth of the examined complaints. Over half (54%) were not upheld.

Speaking this morning on RTÉ’s Today With Seán O’Rourke, Peter Tyndall said the role of the Ombudsman was to give assistance to people who felt they had not been properly treated by the bodies of the state.

He said that in nearly half of all examined complaints the complaint was either upheld or assistance was given to the individual involved.

“It’s what we’d expect really,” said Tyndall.

Most public bodies do a reasonable job most of the time but when they don’t we’re there to help put it right.

Of the complaints received, over 35% had to do with government departments and offices.

A total of 679 complaints were against the Department of Social Protection, 129 against the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, 94 against the Revenue Commissioners, and 67 against the Department of Justice and Equality.

You can read the full report on the Ombudsman’s website here

Read: Litany of errors by child services saw woman’s claims of serious sexual abuse ‘lost’ for over three years

Read: A woman was asked to pay the Dept. of Social Protection €105,000 after her mother died…

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