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Ombudsman procedures

When the Ombudsman receives a complaint it is screened to ensure that it is valid within the meaning of the Ombudsman Act, 1980 (the Act). The complaint is, generally, referred to the Council for a report. Usually, specific information is sought based on the details given concerning the complaint and on the previous experience of the Office in the examination of similar matters. It is important, therefore, that in responding to such requests, the local authority concerned should do so in a timely fashion and take care to ensure that it addresses all of the issues raised by the Office. The Office allows four weeks for a response to a request for a report. Should a report not be received within four weeks, a reminder is issued giving a further three weeks to respond. Should a response still not be received a further reminder is issued giving an additional two weeks. Where the report is not provided by the end of this period (nine weeks) a warning letter under Section 7 of the Act (known as a pre S.7 letter) is issued reminding the Council of the provisions of Section 7 (1)(a) of the Act. Should a response still not be received after a further two weeks a Section 7 notice (S.7 notice) is issued. (A Section 7 notice usually requires a named person to provide the report requested by a specific date, otherwise, the person would be required to attend at the Office of the Ombudsman to provide the information or report, in person.) The period, therefore, from the request for a report to the issue of a S.7 notice is about eleven weeks. (The eleven week time frame before a Section 7 notice is issued is being reviewed at present). The full text of Section 7 of the Act is set in Appendix 2 to this report. It should be emphasised that the majority of local authorities provide reports to the Ombudsman in a four to six week timeframe.