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New law gives greater powers for the people to hold public services to account

21/03/2019

​A new law has been passed which will make public services more accountable to the people of Wales.

The National Assembly for Wales approved the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill with a vote at the Senedd on Wednesday, 20 March 2019.

In a historic first, it is the first Bill to be passed which was introduced by an Assembly committee.

The new law will make it easier for people to complain, removing the barrier that a complaint must be in writing. People will be able to complain orally or through British Sign Language and maybe, in future through other digital technologies and is aimed at helping vulnerable and deprived members of society.

It will also allow the Ombudsman to start his own investigations without receiving a formal complaint where there is evidence to suggest there could be a wider public interest issue. People are often reluctant or scared to come forward so they can complain anonymously and if the strict criteria is satisfied the Ombudsman can investigate.

Currently, a person has to make separate complaints to different organisations for public and private health treatment. The new law allows the Ombudsman to consider both the private and public elements, if without doing so, the Ombudsman is unable to completely investigate the relevant action by the public service provider. This will be a fairer process giving answers to whether a person received appropriate medical treatment throughout the whole of their health care pathway.

"The Ombudsman in Wales has a vital role in ensuring any member of the public who believes they have suffered injustice, hardship or service failure by a public body is able to make a complaint, said Llyr Gruffydd, Chair of the Finance Committee.

"The Finance Committee introduced this Bill because we believe the Ombudsman's role should be strengthened to improve social justice and protect the most vulnerable in society.

"This is particularly pertinent in a society where the most vulnerable people are often most reliant on public services.

"I am delighted the National Assembly has approve this new law; we need a Wales that provides excellent public services. Should a service fall short of an individual's expectations, they will have confidence in the Ombudsman to investigate and make things right."

Nick Bennett, Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, said:

"I'm delighted the Assembly has approved the legislation and am looking forward to utilising my office's new powers and giving a greater voice to the voiceless in Wales.

"I'm thankful to members of the Finance Committee and the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee for their work on the Bill and will now set about the challenge of implementing change to contribute to better public service delivery."

The law was first proposed by the Finance Committee during the Fourth Assembly. Jocelyn Davies was the Chair of the Committee at the time:

"I started work on extending the powers of the Ombudsman back in the Fourth Assembly. I'm now looking forward to a future where we have excellent public services but when things do go wrong, the Ombudsman is able to investigate, bring redress for individuals and make improvements to public services that we can all benefit from."

The Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill will now be sent to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth for the final part of the Assembly's law-making process – Royal Assent.

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