Internal Ombudsman

Images

The Office of the Internal Ombudsman exists to provide a professional complaint handling service to the Warringah community.  The Office was established in 2003 to improve Warringah Council’s accountability and integrity.  The main purpose of the Office is to ensure that Council’s dealings with the community are fair, transparent and accountable.  The Office, through its work, also seeks to identify opportunities for systemic improvements to Council’s processes. 

The Office of the Internal Ombudsman also provides education and training to Council staff on probity and conduct related matters.

It is the role of the Office of the Internal Ombudsman to review and investigate the conduct and actions of Council and Council officers in the case of possible maladministration or misconduct.  It is also the role of the Internal Ombudsman to review process to ensure that it has been carried out fairly and in accordance with Council's procedures, policies and any Acts or Regulations that may apply.  It is not the role of the Internal Ombudsman to review or change operational decisions made by Council, Councillors or Council officers.

Complaints are accepted from both members of the community and from Council staff. Once received, the Internal Ombudsman will conduct a preliminary assessment and will make a recommendation to the Assessment Panel comprising the General Manager, Executive Legal Counsel and the Internal Ombudsman.  This Panel determines whether matters will be investigated, referred, declined or otherwise dealt with.

If you wish to make a complaint please click on the link Complaint to the Office of the Internal Ombudsman under contact information.

Internal Ombudsman FAQ

What is the role of the Internal Ombudsman?

It is the role of the Internal Ombudsman to review and investigate the conduct and actions of Council and Council officers in the case of possible maladministration or misconduct. It is also the role of the Internal Ombudsman to review process to ensure that it has been carried out fairly and in accordance with Council's procedures, policies and any Acts or Regulations that may apply. It is not the role of the Internal Ombudsman to review or change operational decisions made by Council, Councillors or Council officers.

The Office of the Internal Ombudsman (OIO) seeks to provide the community of Warringah with a professional and objective complaint handling service to ensure that Council’s dealings with the community are fair, transparent and accountable. The OIO also provides education and training to Council staff on probity and conduct related matters and, through its work, seeks to identify opportunities for systemic improvements to Council’s processes.

Please note that the OIO is an initiative of Warringah Council and is not affiliated with the NSW Ombudsman.

How do I make a complaint?

In order to enable the OIO to carry out a thorough and considered assessment of your complaint, we require your complaint to be submitted in writing.  The exception to this is if you wish to report an act of fraud or corruption, or if you believe a member of Council staff has committed a breach of the Code of Conduct.  For complaints of this nature, we encourage you to contact the OIO on 9942 2105 for a confidential discussion with the Internal Ombudsman.
 
For all other complaints, submission can be via an online complaint form, by letter or by email.  If your submission is by letter or email, you are requested to cover the following three aspects in your complaint:
 
i. The details/nature of your complaint (including what contravention you feel has taken place);
ii. The background to your complaint and any relevant detailed information; and,
iii. The preferred resolution you are seeking.
 
You are also encouraged to accompany your complaint with any correspondence or information that you deem to be relevant.  Please note that the initial assessment of your complaint will be dependent on the comprehensiveness of the information that you provide, and as such, you are encouraged to address, in as much specificity, the above three criteria.
 
Should you wish to telephone the OIO prior to making a complaint, for advice, assistance or guidance, you are welcome to do so, however, you will be requested to follow up on your phone call with a written complaint.
 

When should I complain to the Internal Ombudsman?

The Internal Ombudsman would usually expect to see that you have attempted to resolve any issue with Council staff, where this is reasonably possible, before making a complaint.  You are welcome to lodge a complaint with the OIO at any point, however, if Council staff are still handling your matter, then it is most likely that your complaint will be referred to the appropriate Group Manager to allow them the opportunity to resolve the issue first.  Please note that the OIO will not interject or intervene with Council’s process.

What is the complaint handling process?

Once a complaint is received, the Internal Ombudsman will conduct a preliminary assessment and will make a recommendation to an Assessment Panel.  The Assessment Panel comprises the General Manager, Executive Legal Counsel and the Internal Ombudsman.  This Panel determines whether matters will be investigated, referred, declined or otherwise dealt with.  The Assessment Panel may decide that the Internal Ombudsman handles the complaint or it may direct the complaint elsewhere within Council’s management.  In cases where the relevant business unit within Council has not had the opportunity to resolve an issue it is likely they will be given the first opportunity to resolve the complaint.  The Assessment Panel may also decline to accept a complaint if there is insufficient information with which to proceed or may refer the complaint to an external investigator.

If I make a complaint, can I choose to remain anonymous?

You may choose to make an anonymous complaint, but you are advised against doing so.  Without your name and contact details, the OIO cannot follow up with you if further information is needed and will be unable to advise you of any outcome.  Additionally, if you choose to make a complaint anonymously, this may inhibit the ability of the OIO to conduct a preliminary assessment of your matter and advise the Assessment Panel accordingly.  You are, therefore, encouraged to give your name and contact details in your written complaint.

Can I make an appointment to see the Internal Ombudsman?

You are welcome to contact the OIO by phone to discuss a matter you are concerned about, however, as outlined above, with the exception of matters involving potential fraud or corruption, complaints are required in writing before they can be assessed.  In the process of carrying out a preliminary assessment of your complaint, it may be necessary for the Internal Ombudsman to meet with you to clarify aspects of the complaint, in which case a member of staff from the OIO will contact you to make an appointment at a mutually agreeable time.

How long will it take to finalise my complaint?

If the Assessment Panel determines that the Internal Ombudsman will conduct an investigation into your complaint, you will be advised as such at the earliest opportunity following the Assessment Panel’s determination.  The Internal Ombudsman will thereafter seek to resolve your complaint as expeditiously as priorities and workload allow, however, owing to the complex and varied nature of complaint types, it is not possible to stipulate a timeframe.  Additionally, timeframes can be influenced by factors outside of the Internal Ombudsman’s control, such as access to information or availability of staff members who may need to be interviewed as part of the investigation process.  In all circumstances, however, the OIO will endeavour to keep you informed of progress in a timely manner, especially if there are unforseen delays in attending to your matter.

Will I be kept informed of the progress of my complaint?

Your complaint will be acknowledged within ten working days of receipt.  Subsequently, you will be advised of the assessment of your complaint after it has been determined by the Assessment Panel.  If your complaint is to be referred to another area within Council you will be advised of which Group Manager will be responsible for reviewing your issue and providing you with a response. 

If it is determined that the Internal Ombudsman will take carriage of your complaint and conduct an investigation as necessary,  you will be advised when a finding is made but otherwise may be contacted if further information is required from you.  If your matter involves a lengthy investigation you will be updated on the progress of your complaint at regular intervals.

If I make a complaint to Customer Service is this the same as the Internal Ombudsman?

No, Customer Service will refer complaints to the Internal Ombudsman only if the nature of the complaint is within the remit of the OIO.  If you feel that your complaint is of a different nature, please refer to Council’s Customer Services webpage or the Customer Services Charter for further information.

What if I intend to or have already made a complaint to an external agency, such as the NSW Ombudsman?

You have the option to lodge a complaint about Council with an external agency if you wish.  This may include, but is not limited to, the NSW Ombudsman, Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, or the Office of Local Government, depending on the nature of your complaint.  However, if you do so, but still wish to make a complaint to the OIO, please advise the OIO as it is likely that any action would be suspended to allow the external agency to conduct its own inquiries without interference or a duplication of investigative efforts.  Such a scenario would not resolve a complaint any quicker.  Additionally, efforts conducted by one may compromise those of the other, which would, in turn, potentially hinder resolution of your complaint.

What is maladministration?

In assessing a complaint alleging maladministration, the OIO refers to the NSW Ombudsman’s definition of maladministration, which includes action or inaction of a nature that is contrary to law, unreasonable, unjust, oppressive, improperly discriminatory, or based on improper motives.  For more information please see the NSW Ombudsman’s factsheet

What is misconduct?

Misconduct is any conduct that is contrary to Council’s Code of Conduct and is further defined in the Complaints Management and Reporting Policy.  Misconduct includes fraud, corruption and workplace bullying, but may constitute any act or behaviour that does not conform to Council’s Code of Conduct.  Each of these documents, and others that may be of relevance, are available via the Internal Ombudsman’s webpage.

Will my complaint remain confidential?

Complaints made to the Internal Ombudsman are only accessible by staff within the OIO, the General Manager and the Executive Legal Counsel (except in cases where the complaints are about any of these people).  During the course of an investigation, the OIO makes every effort to maintain complainants’ confidentiality when making enquiries, however it is not always possible to obtain information without disclosing the complainant’s identity to a minimal number of staff.  Please note that if the Assessment Panel determines that the complaint will not be investigated by the Internal Ombudsman, but will be allocated to the relevant business area, then it is likely that your complaint will not remain confidential.  However, should your complaint be subject to that process, you will be advised by the OIO and can be assured that the complaint will be dealt with only by those members of staff who require knowledge of the complaint in order to address it.

What if I am not happy with the outcome of the OIO’s investigation of my complaint?

If your complaint is investigated by the OIO, and you are dissatisfied with the finding(s) or outcome, you have the option of lodging your complaint with the NSW Ombudsman.  Unless there are exceptional circumstances, the OIO will not review its previous findings on the basis that a complainant’s desired outcome has not be reached or that the outcome is not in their favour.

Does the Internal Ombudsman handle appeals against Parking Infringement Notices (PIN) issued by Council Rangers?

No, if you wish to appeal against a Parking Infringement Notice you need to contact the State Debt Recovery Office (SDRO).  The SDRO will advise you on timeframes associated with appeals and be in a position to provide you with other relevant information. 

Does the Internal Ombudsman handle appeals against Development Approvals?

No, the NSW Land and Environment Court is the appropriate authority to appeal against development approvals.

Can the Internal Ombudsman overrule a decision or action made by Council?

No, the Internal Ombudsman cannot overrule or overturn any decisions made by Council.  If, after an inquiry or investigation, the Internal Ombudsman finds that the decision making process was flawed or that policies or procedures were not followed correctly, recommendations may be made to the General Manager on action that may be taken to redress the issue or to enhance best practice.

Can I make a complaint under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1994 (PID Act)?

The PID Act set in place a system to encourage people who work in the NSW public sector (e.g. in a Council or Councillors) to report serious wrongdoing.  Please refer to Council’s PID Policy if you would like further information.  A NSW Ombudsman factsheet is also a good point of reference if you are thinking about reporting serious wrongdoing in local government.  If you believe that your complaint meets the assessment criteria under the PID Act, please call the Complaint Hotline (9942 2105) for a confidential discussion.

What if my complaint is about the General Manager?

The OIO does not investigate complaints against the General Manager, however, the Internal Ombudsman is Council’s appointed Complaints Coordinator for such matters.  If a complaint against the General Manager is received it may be referred to an external Conduct Reviewer for their assessment and investigation if deemed appropriate.

What if my complaint is about the conduct of an elected Councillor or the Mayor?

The Internal Ombudsman does not investigate complaints against the Mayor or elected Councillors.  As with any complaint that may be made about the General Manager, such complaints will be investigated by an external Conduct Reviewer but may be referred to the Internal Ombudsman in the first instance, who will then assign the matter to a Conduct Reviewer if appropriate.

What if my complaint is about the Human Resources (HR) department?

Complaints that involve the Human Resources (HR) department are not investigated by the OIO.  Such complaints are dealt with by Council’s Legal Department.  As such, if you have a complaint that relates to HR, please submit your complaint to Council in writing and mark it for the attention of, Vivienne Ingram, Executive Legal Counsel.