Student in direct provision warned over absences while attending school
Ombudsman’s annual report highlights issues in social welfare and nursing homes
Ombudsman Peter Tyndall has expressed frustration at the Government’s failure to introduce legislation to assist people with disabilities on low incomes to access transport. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
An 18-year-old woman living in direct provision was warned by a State agency about absences from her allocated centre in the southwest even though she was travelling to Dublin on weekdays to complete her secondary education.
The case is among those outlined in the annual report of the Ombudsman for 2017, published on Wednesday.
The woman had arrived in Ireland alone, applied for asylum as a minor and started in fifth year in school in Dublin in 2016. Her only family member in Ireland was her aunt who also lived near the young woman’s school.
She initially lived with her aunt but this situation became unsustainable after a few months, Ombudsman Peter Tyndall said.
In April last year, she was assigned to a regional accommodation centre for asylum seekers and refugees in the southwest. The manager of that centre facilitated her to travel to Dublin for school during the week then back to the centre for the weekend until she completed fifth year in May 2017.
“As she was absent from her designated centre on weekdays for several weeks the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) issued her with a warning letter about those absences,” the report said.
She complained to the Ombudsman about the warning letter and confirmed she wished to transfer to a centre in Dublin to continue her education.
When the office intervened on her behalf, the RIA disputed that it had issued a warning letter and also said it had not received a transfer request from the young woman.
She was able to provide the Ombudsman with a copy of the warning letter issued by RIA. On hearing she needed to submit a transfer request, she did so, but it was rejected by reception agency on the basis that exceptional circumstances did not exist.
Mr Tyndall said the decision appeared to his office to be inconsistent with the agency’s policy of keeping residents in accommodation close to other family members in the country, as far as possible, and facilitating continuity of education.
His office was satisfied that the woman’s circumstances were exceptional and that everything should be done to allow her to complete her Leaving Certificate in a school she was familiar with and close to the family support of her aunt.
He said the agency reviewed the woman’s case on “humanitarian grounds” and granted her a transfer to a Dublin accommodation centre within commuting distance of her school and her aunt.
Mr Tyndall said his office received 115 complaints from people living in direct provision centres in 2017. Many of these were about transfers to other centres or accommodation issues.
In total, the office received 3,021 complaints about providers of public services last year. There were 953 complaints about Government departments or offices, 852 about local authorities and 608 about the health and social care sector.
The Ombudsman said that following an increase in complaints against the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection over the past two years it had engaged with the department in a “systemic examination” of its policy and practice regarding the recovery of overpayments to customers.
Mr Tyndall expressed frustration at the Government’s failure to publish outline legislation in relation to entitlements for transport costs for people with disabilities on a low income who cannot access public transport.
Cases dealt with last year also included one in which a Kildare farmer got a refund of €27,550 in relation to his Rural Environment Protection Scheme payment when the Department of Agriculture had not processed his application correctly.
The number of complaints about private nursing homes doubled from 30 in 2016 to 63 in 2017.
CASE STUDY: Delay resolved over patient at risk of amputation
A woman with diabetes complained to the Ombudsman when she experienced delays in regular check-ups for treatment on her feet. There was a risk of amputation of her toes if she was left unchecked. It had been six months since her last appointment when she complained to the Ombudsman and said she had been told she would not have any appointment for the foreseeable future.
The HSE said a failure to update the woman’s computer record after her last assessment had resulted in her remaining a low-risk patient and therefore not receiving any future appointments. Following the Ombudsman’s intervention, the error was noticed and the woman was given an immediate appointment, a written apology and an explanation for the error.