Northern Ireland Ombudsman (NIPSO)

You have a right to complain to the Ombudsman if you feel that a government department, government agency or other public body has treated you unfairly, or provided poor service.

What the law says

The Ombudsman’s legal authority to investigate complaints and make recommendations, as appropriate, is set out in the Public Services Ombudsman Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 (the 2016 Act).

Useful information

You have a right to complain to the Ombudsman if you feel that a government department, government agency or other public body has treated you unfairly, or if you have received poor service and your complaint to the body in question has not been resolved to your satisfaction. In most cases you must show you have fully exhausted the body’s complaints procedure before making a complaint to the Ombudsman, however, there can be certain circumstances where an exception is made. Where the Ombudsman investigates your complaint and finds the body has been at fault she can recommend appropriate action.

The rules that apply to investigations by the Ombudsman generally prevent her from considering complaints if:

  • The incident you want to complain about took place more than six months ago;
  • You are simply unhappy with the government policy or the content of legislation;
  • You could take your case to tribunal;
  • Your case is best decided in court;
  • It is about a matter that you are taking to, or intend to take, to court. In particular, cases of alleged medical negligence or claims for compensation cannot be accepted for investigation as these are matters for the Court to decide;
  • The Ombudsman believes the action or decision you are complaining about was in fact reasonable;
  • It is a complaint about access to health and social care information and the application of the Data Protection Act or the Freedom of Information Act. These matters are for the Information Commissioner;
  • It is about private healthcare; or
  • It is about a contractual dispute between health and social care organisations and their providers and suppliers.

Note: A number of the decisions taken by Government and public service providers are within the discretion of the individual body. The Ombudsman can only investigate a discretionary decision if there is evidence that there has been maladministration in the way the decision is made.

What to do if you have a complaint

If you remain dissatisfied after using the complaints procedure of the body concerned, you should bring your complaint to the Ombudsman’s attention.

This should normally be in writing, using either a complaints form (available from their website and the office) or by sending a letter. If you have difficulty in writing, completing the form in its current format or with translation you should contact the Ombudsman’s office for assistance.