The role of an Ombudsman in a crisis

By Jane Pires. Originally published by the Australian and New Zealand Ombudsman Association (ANZOA) in The Ombudsman November 2020.

Crisis is a word we’ve heard a lot this year – global health crisis, economic crisis and climate crisis to name a few. So, what is the role of an Ombudsman in these times? While the immediate instinct during a crisis may be to react, I believe taking a long-term proactive approach should be our goal.

For me, this means keeping connection at the heart of what we do. For example, connecting with regulators to contribute our insights to future decisions, and connecting industry, community services and consumers by acting as a conduit between these groups to ensure issues are heard and we work together for positive outcomes. It also involves working collaboratively with other dispute resolution services, community groups, peak bodies and government to share information and broaden our network of support.

It is also about genuinely connecting with your team, to understand what is important to them personally to provide a supportive and safe environment so they can deliver quality assistance to customers and scheme participants.

This approach ensures I am across emerging issues and my office is in the best position to help when we are needed.

We are often the first point of call for advice during a crisis, so it’s incredibly important that we shift our approach to meet ever changing needs. For EWOQ this has involved making it easier for customers to contact us through live chat on our new website, which also features an improved online complaints form.

It’s also involved a more proactive approach to awareness raising.  Awareness of our service is crucial – particularly in these challenging times. This year we’ve hosted webinars between industry and the community sector, taken part in virtual expos and delivered presentations online to inform key groups about our services. Going forward we will continue to evolve our virtual outreach alongside face-to-face events.

We don’t know what challenges await us in the months and years ahead, however, in Queensland we know the weather will play a part in this and I’m confident that taking a proactive approach as an Ombudsman service means we are well placed to support those who need our help.

While it may have been acceptable for ombudsman offices to sit back in the past, both the community and industry expect – and deserve – more of our services now and into the future.