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29 Jan 04: Launch of the Ombudsman's Strategy Statement and Information Booklets

SPEECH BY PAUL KENNY, PENSIONS OMBUDSMAN, Launch of the Ombudsman's Strategy Statement and Information Booklets

SPEECH BY PAUL KENNY, PENSIONS OMBUDSMAN, Launch of the Ombudsman's Strategy Statement and Information BookletsA Aire, Táim fíor-bhuíoch díot as teacht anseo inniu, chun an Ráiteas Straitéise a ghlacadh uainn, agus chun tús a chur le feachtas nua eolais dúinn. Tá sé anois níos lú ná leath-bhliain ó oscailt oifigiúil na hoifige seo. Tá mórán oibre déanta againn cheana féin – agus mórán fós le déanamh. Mar sin, tá anáthas orm na leabhráin eolais seo a chur ar fáil don phobal. Minister, ladies and gentlemen: I would like to thank the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Mary Coughlan, for taking the time to be with us this morning. I know you have a Bill in Dáil Éireann right now, and that you won’t be able to stay for long, and my staff and I really appreciate your presence here today. I would also like to welcome our guests: from the pensions and insurance industries, the Pensions Board, IFSRA, Comhairle, the Department of Social and Family Affairs, the Retirement Planning Council, the GRO project, the trade union movement, the Library services and from the press, as well as from the other Ombudsman offices.[ ] Thank you all for being here with us. The main purpose of today is to launch some publications. The first of these is our strategy statement. It recites our mission, our core values and our targets for implementation. It is set out in very general terms; mostly because we are at the start of a learning process. As that process goes on, and we learn from our experience, our strategy will grow and change. That change will be a continuous process. So, although the statement is dated 2004 to 2006, I suspect that, by the end of that time, our strategy statement will be a very different document from the one that I hand you today. One of the objectives in that statement is to compile a Memorandum of Understanding with IFSRA and the new Financial Services Ombudsman – to be appointed under recently-published legislation. That Memorandum will be required by law, and will supplement the practical working arrangements we already have with the Insurance Ombudsman and the Pensions Board. The object will be to ensure that a user-friendly service is provided to members of the public – the consumers of financial services – so that, wherever they arrive first with a complaint, they won’t be turned away. If the complaint isn’t for this office, we’ll make sure it gets to where it should be. Those involved with consumer rights will know all too well that it’s not always possible to decide what is the correct home for a complaint until it’s been examined and analysed. The important thing is that no consumer is ever told, “This isn’t ours – go away”. Which brings me to the other reason for this gathering today – the launch of our three information booklets in hard copy. There is no point in being here to provide a service to the public, if the public doesn’t know it’s available. We have our website, and we’re very pleased with the way it works. From the beginning of September to the end of December, there were nearly 32,000 hits on the site. The daily average is over 250 at present. But not everybody has access to the Internet. Many people, especially some pensioners, don’t feel comfortable with computers. So other ways of getting our message out to people are extremely important. It was very noticeable that, following the publicity that surrounded the opening of the Office back in September, the postbag swelled considerably, as did the activity on the website. There were 39 new complaint files opened that month. Right now, we are ticking over, at about one per working day. Each new file doesn’t mean an instant investigation – some turn out on examination to be outside the terms of reference of the office; others are referred back for internal disputes resolution; some people just want somebody to listen to what they say, to take them seriously for once; but many of them will become matters for investigation in due course. In that context, I shall be recruiting t wo investigators shortly, and that will bring the office up to its full approved strength. We have published three booklets. The main one is intended for consumers who have complaints or disputes. The second is for employers, administrators, trustees and others who are named as respondents to complaints. The third is intended as guidance, mostly for the trustees of occupational pension schemes, on the internal disputes resolution process. In accordance with the policy we have adopted from the outset, the booklets are printed in both languages – in the same volume. Is cóir dom buíochas a ghabáil leis an Dr. Mícheál Ó Murchú, as aistriucháin na dtrí leabhrán. We intend to distribute the consumer booklet, in particular, as widely as possible, through the Pensions Board and the other Ombudsman offices and the Consumer Directorate of IFSRA; through Social Welfare local offices, Citizens’ Information Centres, public libraries and Trades Unions. CDROM versions will also be made available. The Guidelines for trustees will be distributed through pensions industry outlets, and directly from this office. This is needed. We’ve had a number of examples of complaints submitted for internal disputes resolution, where it was clear that the trustees and the employer concerned simply didn’t know what the law now requires them to do. Most people are hoping not to receive a copy of the booklet for respondents – that goes out when an investigation begins. If you do get one, please co-operate with us – it’s in everybody’s interest in the long run. In passing, I’d like to thank and compliment the professionals in the pensions and insurance industries. They have been unfailingly courteous and helpful to us at all times – even to the extent of agreeing voluntarily to look again at cases that are too old for this Office to rule upon. I hope that these booklets will be a positive first step on the road to informing as wide a public as possible that we are here, and that we are here to help them. Insofar as resources allow, my staff and I will also make ourselves available to talk to interest groups, industry bodies, and so on, to help to reinforce the message: It is OK to complain – and there is someone out there who’ll listen