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Complaint to Ombudsman after social housing tenant deemed to have sent 'insulting' tweet about neighbour

The Ombudsman received more than 3,600 complaints about public services last year.

Image: Shutterstock/Natee Meepian

COMPLAINTS ABOUT PUBLIC services to the Ombudsman Peter Tyndall rose by almost 10% in 2019, according to his annual report for last year. 

The report, published today, shows that the Ombudsman received more than 3,600 complaints about public services last year, up from more than 3,300 in 2018. 

The largest number of complaints was in relation to services provided by government departments (1,186 complaints).

This was followed by complaints about local authorities (990 complaints), the health and social care sector (708 complaints), and the education sector (219 complaints).

The Ombudsman investigates complaints from the public about almost all providers of public services as well as third-level education bodies, private nursing homes and direct provision services.

Late grant application

In one case study in today’s report, a student from Waterford contacted the Ombudsman when Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) refused to accept his late application for a 2018/19 Higher Education Grant.

The student was living with his stepfather at the time and applied as a dependant of his stepfather through SUSI’s online application process. He had technical difficulties completing his application, which was quickly resolved.

However, the student believed he needed the details of his stepfather’s income and information relating to the death of his mother, who had passed away two years previously, to complete the application.

The Ombudsman noted that his mother’s death had been particularly traumatic for the student, and that he had become estranged from his stepfather and could not get the details he thought he needed.

In addition, the student had dyspraxia and depression, and was recovering from operations relating to a tumour on his spinal cord. As a result, he was two months late with his application.

He asked SUSI to accept his late application and pointed to the difficult circumstances he had found himself in as the reason for the delay, but was initially refused.

However, the Ombudsman considered that SUSI should use its discretionary powers to grant the late application, and the body later agreed to do this following the finding.

‘Insulting’ tweet

In another case, a social housing tenant complained to the Ombudsman when Cork County Council said he had breached his tenancy agreement with the local authority.

The council said the tenant had used abusive and insulting language in a tweet that he had sent about a court case involving the owner of a neighbouring property, and that he had published a photo of the owner, without her consent, on a blog.

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The tenant explained that the tweet was factual, and that he did not publish the photo. He said that he wanted the allegations removed from his tenancy record.

In response to the Ombudsman, the local authority said there were a number of issues between the tenant and the property owner, including a court case that the tenant had lost.

Following the outcome of the court case, it said, the tenant included a link to details of a different case involving the owner in his tweet and it had received a complaint about him publishing the woman’s picture in his blog alongside details of the court case.

The Ombudsman discovered that the allegations concerning the tweet and the blog had not been put to the tenant in order to allow him to respond before the council decided he had breached his tenancy agreement.

In addition, the council was found to not have a social media policy for its tenants, so the Ombudsman found that the reference to the tweet in the tenancy notification letter was unfair.

It was further discovered that the blog was not run by tenant, and it was unreasonable for the council to assume that he was responsible for the publication of the photograph. 

The council ultimately agreed to remove the allegations from the tenant’s record, and also said it would consider the introduction of a social media policy.

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