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2019: Year in Review

As 2019 draws to a close, it offers the perfect opportunity to reflect on the year that has passed; the challenges and opportunities we’ve encountered, what we’ve achieved, and where we are heading.

I have made no secret of the challenges we have faced at SCOAF over the last few years and the work we have done to address this. From the day we opened our doors, we have never had a full complement of staff. While many organisations are carrying vacancies and ‘gapping’ posts, when key posts sit vacant, it can have a detrimental impact. Unfortunately at SCOAF, the key posts sitting vacant have been in the investigations team. When you add to that significantly higher than anticipated requested for investigations and complex historical complaints, you have the perfect recipe for a backlog.

As I have previously stated, I find the fact that we have a backlog undesirable and unacceptable. However, I am exceptionally proud of how my team has worked tirelessly to address this and their achievements this year. Under the stewardship of my Chief of Operations, we made many changes to the way we work in 2019 that have resulted in us being a stronger and more resilient organisation.

Following an independent process review in April, we streamlined our processes; removing unnecessary procedures and putting in place a clear structure for what matters we will accept for investigation. This is in line with how other ombudsman organisations operate. Before this, we had accepted all investigation requests that were made in time and at the correct point in the process. This way of working was not sustainable. Not only did we not have sufficient resource to investigate every complaint promptly, in many instances further investigation by our office did not lead to a different outcome. Neither of which was fair to complainants.

These new processes, in conjunction with a sustained focus on recruitment, has helped to reduce our backlog without compromising on quality.

At the end of January, we had 150 unallocated substance and maladministration cases. The oldest unallocated case related to an application for investigation received in our office in December 2017. By December 20 2019, this had reduced to 51 unallocated cases.

While we are still working to reduce the backlog further, this is a significant achievement. I am confident that we can continue to build on this and develop an even stronger organisation.

Of course, this isn’t the only work we have done in-year! We continue to do our core work of handling enquiries, making referrals and investigating cases. My wider team has been busy ensuring we are:

* communicating our messages in the best possible way

* operating according to our policies and procedures

* following industry best practice

* adequately resourced

Every day, each member of my organisation comes to work and gives their all to the tasks before them. I am exceptionally proud of the work that we have done and the pride and enthusiasm that is consistently demonstrated, especially in the face of the challenges we have experienced over the last few years.

As we break for the festive season, I want to take this opportunity to not only thank my staff in a public forum but assure all of our stakeholders that we will return energised and eager to engage in the challenges ahead.