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Murphy Lives On – or, Anything that can go wrong already has….. In the Public Service too!. With some observations on complaint handling Paul Kenny The Pensions Ombudsman December 2007. When a complaint is made…. Does the Complaint handler…. Lend a sympathetic ear? Attack the complainant?

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murphy lives on or anything that can go wrong already has in the public service too

Murphy Lives On – or, Anything that can go wrong already has….. In the Public Service too!

Withsome observations on complaint handling

Paul KennyThe Pensions Ombudsman

December 2007

when a complaint is made
When a complaint is made….
  • Does the Complaint handler….
    • Lend a sympathetic ear?
    • Attack the complainant?
    • Reach for their Lawyer?
    • Look up their Insurance Policy?
    • Actually look for the facts?
    • Agree that he has a case?
    • Apologise?
    • Refer the complainant to IDR?
no standard response to complaints
No Standard Response to complaints
  • Responses vary according to the “complainee” – some organisations more open to complaints than others
  • Culture in some cases is “save money at all costs” – even though there may be injustice
and the complainant
And the Complainant
  • Some people are their own worst enemies
    • The nit-picker
      • When he cries “wolf”, nobody listens any more
    • The Chip on the Shoulder
      • Not again!
    • The Worrier
      • But it might happen….

…to name but a few

pitfalls
Pitfalls
  • Don’t be tempted to batten down the hatches and hope he’ll go away – he won’t
  • Don’t treat complainants as dangerous lunatics
  • Do acknowledge the complaint and treat it seriously
  • Do try to deal with it as quickly as possible
remember
Remember
  • Most people who complain really do feel aggrieved
  • Many feel they have a strong case
  • They may not be correct but should be handled with respect
    • Even habitual complainers
  • A lot of people genuinely don’t know
  • Real “chancers” are rare enough
    • But they do exist
an apology
An apology?
  • Remember that sometimes an apology is enough (“it’s the principle…”)
  • Complainants need to feel they are being listened to
  • Failure of the scheme /administrator /trustee to reply will escalate the problem
  • People who feel they are not taken seriously feel aggrieved
    • And complain to me
one little word
One Little Word
  • A missing word – a missing clause
  • “… because….”
  • Many complaints could be avoided by giving an adequate – or a clear – explanation of the reasons for trustees’ or employers’ actions, or the factors that influence a decision
slide9

More confusion and more complaints result from poor communication than from almost any other single factor.

When a complaint arises, keep the lines of communication open

compliance with disclosure requirements
Compliance with Disclosure Requirements
  • Most schemes are generally compliant, though there are always some problems
  • The requirements are straightforward (if potentially expensive)
    • Meeting them can be a problem!
    • Because of the weight of regulation, temptation is to tick boxes without regard for clarity of the message
    • Public Service short-cut to disclosure
perils of communication
Perils of Communication
  • “You should keep this booklet in a safe place for future reference……”
  • That’s all they ever do
  • The Golden Rule of Pension Communication:

Nobody Ever reads thesmallprint

public service schemes
Public Service Schemes
  • Generally suffer from poor communication
    • May be worse as you get further from the centre
    • Circulars often incomprehensible – but very accurate!
    • Incomplete information, e.g., contributions to be repaid
problems i shouldn t have
Problems I shouldn’t have….
  • Some “complaints” can be disposed of quickly
  • I should not have to write to a complainant explaining the true meaning of a “communication” from scheme trustees
    • But it is the quickest way of closing the matter down
a revolutionary proposal
A Revolutionary Proposal
  • Any chance of using Plain English?
internal disputes resolution in the public service
Internal Disputes Resolution in the Public Service
  • Most Public Service schemes are “Public Authority” schemes –but not all
  • Appeal to Minister
  • Possible appeal to Minister for Finance
  • Time limits are a joke
  • Three months will run from when sufficient information received
idr continued
IDR, continued
  • PO does not have power to waive the IDR requirement in a Public Authority Scheme
  • BUT can deem the process to be exhausted within its terms
  • I would prefer not to… but…
public sector pensions administration
Public Sector Pensions Administration
  • Unevenness
  • What you get should not depend on what Health Board region you worked in….
  • Or the whim of some official
  • Lack of experience in pensions matters
    • Knowledge dispersed
    • Career structure
    • Pensions are not sexy!
  • Where there is tight control and specialist staff, far fewer problems
  • Shared Services…..
some complaints are unique to the public service
Some complaints are unique to the Public Service
  • Added Years – delays in advising costs; disputes over calculation of added years; requirement for 9 years’ service
  • LGSS: Firefighters and Retirement Age: pay increase, supplementary pension
  • LGSS: Overtime – no consistency
public service problems 2
Public Service problems 2
  • Some Equal treatment cases fail for lack of valid comparator
  • Pension Levy – opters-out – and non-pensionable gratuity
  • “Transfers” that are not transfers, and the Spouses’ and Children’s scheme
  • Sessional Employees and the Health Service
public service problems 3
Public Service problems 3
  • Allowances often the subject of dispute
  • Service with grant-aided bodies
  • Co-ordination with State Pensions
  • Old Widows’ and Orphans’ schemes
  • LGSS 1956 Act Scheme – preservation
  • Attempts to fetter discretionary powers
public service problems 4
Public Service problems 4
  • Divorce and Separation – Pension Adjustment Orders
  • In Public Service, 6 orders may be needed
  • Death Before commencement of Benefit – an insane situation
not all complaints are serious to start with
Not all complaints are serious- to start with
  • Some should never get to my office, but escalate due to
    • Poor communication – both ways
    • Lack of knowledge of trustee duties
    • Failure to take complaint seriously
  • And some were never serious in the first place
    • Failure to switch investment in less than 5 days
      • Thursday to Monday!!
    • The Great PO Robber
the pensions ombudsman
The Pensions Ombudsman
  • 36 Upper Mount StDublin 2
  • Phone: 01 647 1650
  • Fax: 01 676 9577
  • info@pensionsombudsman.ie
  • www.pensionsombudsman.ie