Publications & Resources

Office of the Ombudsman Annual Report 2015/16

Posted: May 2017

The following summary contains information pertaining to Legal Aid Ontario included in the annual report from the Office of the Ombudsman. This report was released on November 02, 2016.

1. Background

The Ombudsman's Office was established in 1975 to help Ontarians resolve problems with provincial government services and administration. LAO receives inquiries from the Ombudsman's Early Resolution Officers on behalf of members of the public. Many of the inquiries received by the Ombudsman's Office are questions that can be answered by the front line staff and do not require any assistance from LAO. The Operations section of the Office, which consists of Early Resolution Officers and Investigators, focuses on resolving individual cases. Cases that cannot be informally resolved are referred for formal investigation, while others are brought to the attention of the senior government officials and successfully addressed.

During 2015/16, the number of organizations overseen by the Ombudsman doubled (from 500+ to more than 1,000) with the addition to his mandate of municipalities, universities and school boards. However, the source of the highest number of complaints received, Hydro One, was removed from the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman in June 2015.

The Ombudsman's office continues to be maintaining its public visibility with the use of a webpage, news articles, television and radio news items, a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a mobile application

Effective April 1, 2016, the province welcomed a new Ombudsman, Paul Dubé.

2. Details

For the 2015/16 fiscal year and for the first time in seven years, LAO did not appear in the top 15 organizations complained about to the Office of the Ombudsman. Inquiries pertaining to LAO accounted for only 0.5% of all cases received by the Ombudsman.

As outlined in the annual report, the top 15 provincial government organizations and programs by case volume were as follows (it was noted that these organizations and programs did not include correctional facilities which were noted separately. It was also noted that Hydro One was removed from the Ombudsman's jurisdiction on June 4, 2015):

Rank Organization or program Number of cases
1 Family Responsibility Office 1,025
2 Ontario Disability Support Program 843
3 Hydro One 632
4 Workplace Safety and Insurance Board 594
5 Transportation - Medical Review 242
6 Driver Licensing 212
7 Community Care Access Centres 159
8 Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee 158
9 Developmental Services Programs 156
10 Ontario Student Assistance Program 155
11 Ontario Health Insurance Plan 144
12 Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology 137
13 Private Career Colleges Branch 135
14 Service Ontario 135
15 Landlord and Tenant Board 131

The number of inquiries regarding LAO that were made to the Office of the Ombudsman in 2015/16 continued to decrease. This may be attributed to the increased publicity regarding other matters such as Hydro One and also to the increased mandate of the Office.

In addition, the number of inquiries relayed to our office by the Ombudsman front line staff continues to decrease as well. Over the years, we have established a good working relationship with this Office and they have developed a comprehensive database regarding LAO policies and procedures.

The chart below compares the numbers recorded by the Ombudsman's office as compared to the number of contacts recorded by LAO. We find it encouraging that many of the inquiries can be resolved by the Office of the Ombudsman using their knowledge about LAO. This year, we were contacted regarding 41 matters (compared to 70 in 2014/15) but the annual report showed a total of 118 (157 in 2014/15) inquiries received regarding LAO.

This line chart shows the difference between the number of inquiries received by LAO from the Office of the Ombudsman as compared to the number of inquiries received about LAO as reported by the Ombudsman. 
		In 2005-06, LAO received 33 inquiries from the Ombudsman.  The Ombudsman reported receiving 159 inquiries regarding LAO. 
		In 2006-07, LAO received 24 inquiries from the Ombudsman.  The Ombudsman reported receiving 154 inquiries regarding LAO. 
		In 2007-08, LAO received 47 inquiries from the Ombudsman.  The Ombudsman reported receiving 141 inquiries regarding LAO. 
		In 2008-09, LAO received 45 inquiries from the Ombudsman.  The Ombudsman reported receiving 112 inquiries regarding LAO. 
		In 2009-10, LAO received 53 inquiries from the Ombudsman.  The Ombudsman reported receiving 122 inquiries regarding LAO. 
		In 2010-11, LAO received 74 inquiries from the Ombudsman.  The Ombudsman reported receiving 125 inquiries regarding LAO. 
		In 2011-12, LAO received 75 inquiries from the Ombudsman.  The Ombudsman reported receiving 159 inquiries regarding LAO. 
		In 2012-13, LAO received 107 inquiries from the Ombudsman.  The Ombudsman reported receiving 201 inquiries regarding LAO. 
		In 2013-14, LAO received 66 inquiries from the Ombudsman.  The Ombudsman reported receiving 150 inquiries regarding LAO. 
		In 2014-15, LAO received 70 inquiries from the Ombudsman.  The Ombudsman reported receiving 157 inquiries regarding LAO. 
		In 2015-16, LAO received 41 inquiries from the Ombudsman.  The Ombudsman reported receiving 118 inquiries regarding LAO.

An example of a file which was resolved by the Ombudsman office without contacting LAO was the case study that was included in the annual report:

A senior who was charged with threatening police complained that Legal Aid Ontario told him he was no longer eligible for their services after the Crown decided it would not seek to put him in jail if convicted. Our Office determined that although Legal Aid eligibility normally involves cases where there is a likelihood of jail time, Legal Aid can also provide a lawyer for vulnerable people in difficult circumstances. The man appealed Legal Aid's decision and he was given legal representation.

Of the 41 inquiries received by the Ombudsman Office in 2015/16, there was one matter which was escalated past the preliminary inquiry stage:

The client's certificate was cancelled when she was reassessed as it was determined that she did not qualify financially. The client appealed the cancellation and the refusal was upheld by PO Appeals. However, upon reconsideration, the client was offered a certificate with a condition that the client provided a lump sum payment of $2,143 to LAO. The client wanted to pay this amount by monthly payments as opposed to a lump sum.

The reason for the lump sum was that was considered to be the amount of money that the client should have paid for legal fees, during the period in which she did not qualify for legal aid. A monthly payment plan is only an option when the applicant falls within the contribution agreement guidelines. This applicant was above that amount, until her income was reduced and the financial eligibility levels were increased. As the client now qualified for full certificate services, she was required to only pay the amount indicated in the letter of reconsideration, based on her income being above the eligibility test when she first applied for legal aid.

Once this matter was received from the Ombudsman, it was examined carefully by LAO. The PO Appeals department eventually determined that while discretion was properly exercised, LAO's reply to the applicant`s second request for reconsideration did not address her concerns. As a resulted, LAO offered to take the $1500 lump sum the client offered, consider the matter closed and confirm that the client would receive a non-contributory certificate.

Five other inquiries were determined to be substantiated:

  • Two applicants were permitted to complete applications and receive formal refusals so that the appeal process could be accessed.
  • Appeal information was sent to the wrong address when a client's contact information had not been updated
  • The client had requested but not received written confirmation that his debt to LAO had been waived
  • The District Office confirmed that additional certificate authorizations had been refused in error. Upon receiving this information, the client confirmed that she wished to retain different counsel so a new certificate was issued to her

Although efficiency is a priority, the duration between receipt and resolution is frequently beyond our control as the Ombudsman representative must also communicate with the initiator of the inquiry. However, the Complaints department was able to resolve 73.2% of Ombudsman inquiries received within 30 days.

3. Conclusion

We will continue to enhance our relationship with the Office of the Ombudsman and utilize the subjects of inquiries to identify possible gaps in our policies and procedures.