Case Summaries

Community Youth Justice and Tasmania Police - June 2018

Process for after-hours contact

Miss P, who was aged 14 at the time, complained to the Ombudsman that she was held for an extended period in the Hobart Reception Prison (HRP).  She was held after appearing before a Justice of the Peace who refused to conduct a bail hearing without a Youth Justice representative present. Accordingly, Miss P was remanded until the following day and subsequently transported to Ashley Youth Detention Centre where she appeared via video link in court the following day.  The Ombudsman sought an explanation from both Children and Youth Services (CYS) and Tasmania Police.

The response from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) was that it was not common practice to hold young people at the HRP and the incident was a regrettable one.  It explained that Community Youth Justice (CYJ) have two after-hours contacts which can be contacted when services are required by Tasmania Police or the courts.  It explained that although the Police Prosecution Services had attempted to call the first on call CYJ staff member, it did not attempt to call the CYJ Area Manager.

Tasmania Police explained that it made several attempts by telephone and by text message to contact the CYJ on call staff member and also the Child Safety Services Manager without success prior to the court appearance.  A second prosecutor, with more experience in youth justice matters, was able to contact the CYJ Area Manager to be present for the second court appearance.

To ensure an incident like this does not occur again CYJ confirmed the process with Tasmania Police and addressed the issue with its on-call staff member.   Tasmania Police advised that it has updated the contact list used by Southern after hours prosecutors to include the CYJ Area Manager’s contact number. The process has also been discussed more broadly with relevant staff.

It was noted that the after hours court times are determined by the Magistrates Court with Miss P presented to court at the earliest opportunity.

The Ombudsman was satisfied that the process for after-hours contact between Tasmania Police Prosecutions and CYJ has been adequately reviewed.

Waratah-Wynyard Council and Department of Primary Industries Parks Water and Environment (DPIPWE) - June 2018

Weed management

Mr P complained to the Ombudsman after raising his concerns with the Council about the lack of management of the weed, English broom, on neighbouring properties.  Some of the neighbouring properties are privately owned, others under Crown ownership.  The main concern of Mr P was that broom is a fire hazard.

The Ombudsman made preliminary inquiries of both the Council and Crown Land Services (CLS).   Advice was received from DPIPWE that the responsibility for the issue of abatement notices was with the Waratah-Wynyard Council. The Ombudsman sought an explanation for the delay in action by the Council. The Council explained that it was of the view that its previous approach of educating landowners had been successful in the past.  It also expressed reluctance to issue notices to private landowners in circumstances where buffer zones were not being adequately maintained by properties under Crown ownership.

Biosecurity Tasmania Operations recommended that the Council have fire abatement or weed requirement notices served on all owners. As a result of Mr P’s complaint the Council acted to send letters and abatement notices to all private owners and the Crown to remind of their obligations under the Weed Management Act 1999 (the Act).   A stakeholder meeting between the Council and CLS took place in Novmber 2017 and a site meeting in January 2018.  This resulted in broom removal works being undertaken and completed during February 2018 such that owners were now compliant with the requirements of the Act and the Tasmania Fire Service Guidelines.

The Council noted in its responses that the management of broom is an ongoing issue which requires ongoing vigilance by property owners.  For its part CLS agreed to continue to work with the Council in regards to the best approach for future weed management and expressed interest in the development of a specific weed management plan for the Waratah township. The Ombudsman expressed the view that this would be worthwhile endeavour and a matter for the stakeholders to advance.

Metro Tasmania - May 2018

Social Media Notifications

A complaint was received from a Metro Tasmania user concerning the management of a complaint that had been made directly to the Metro Tasmania Customer Service department.  As a result of the inquiries that were undertaken by this office it became clear that the complaint had been managed satisfactorily by Metro Tasmania.  The complaint was essentially related to traffic conditions and was therefore outside Metro Tasmania’s control.

Throughout the course of the inquiries that were undertaken, it also became evident that Metro Tasmania operates accounts on a number of social media platforms that provide information about Metro Tasmania services.  Unfortunately, it also became clear that this information is only provided and updated on weekdays between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm.

The Ombudsman raised the operational hours of the social media services with Metro Tasmania due to a concern that it failed to provide information to users during peak afternoon and evening travel times.

Metro Tasmania responded to the Ombudsman’s concerns and acknowledged that passengers had also expressed a desire to have real-time passenger information made available.  Metro Tasmania also acknowledged that this is currently beyond the technical capabilities of its on-board information systems, however it is working with a view to securing further investment in these systems in the near further.  In the interim, in the hope of bridging the gap it will be trialling an extension of the monitored hours of the social media feeds across the 2018 winter period between the hours of 7:00 am and 6:00 pm.

Tasmania Prison Service - May 2018

Complaint about theft from prison cell

A complaint was received from an inmate concerning the theft of a significant quantity of goods from his cell.  The theft occurred at a time when the inmate was out of the cell and it had been locked by correctional staff.

The inmate initially complained through the Tasmania Prison Service and was informed that a decision had been made not to reimburse the inmate for the property stolen.  The inmate appealed this decision, however it was upheld by the Superintendent.

Following receipt of the complaint to the Ombudsman CCTV footage was reviewed and it was confirmed that a number of inmates had forced their way into the locked cell.  This footage had already led to the identification of the inmates involved in the incident and the inmates responsible being subjected to disciplinary proceedings.  On further investigation the Director of Prisons Designate had determined that in the circumstances it was appropriate to overturn the Superintendent’s decision and reimburse the inmate’s stolen property.

Tasmania Prison Service was provided with a verified list of property items that had been stolen from the inmate and the inmate was provided with a cheque covering the value of the items stolen.

TasWater - March 2018

Water leaks and location of water meter

A complaint was received concerning particularly high water usage accounts.  Issues were raised by the complainant about the location of the water meter in relation to the property.  As part of the inquiries undertaken information was also requested from TasWater about why the property had both a 20mm and 40mm connection.

In its response to the complaint, TasWater accepted that there had been a number of leaks on the property that had led to excessively high water usage bills.  TasWater had made sure that the leaks were all repaired before offering the complainants a 50% remission on the water usage.  TasWater had delayed in offering the remission as it only offers customers one undetected leak remission per lifetime per property and it indicated that it wanted to make sure that any remission offered to the complainant covered the leak.

TasWater acknowledged that it had not sent a courtesy letter advising the complainants of a potential leak as it said that the water usage for the property was so inconsistent the leak was difficult to identify.  TasWater maintains that any advice about potential leaks is only ever given as a courtesy and the monitoring of water usage remains the responsibility of the customer.  In this instance the increase in water usage was well in excess of any previous amounts used by the customer and as part of the Ombudsman’s closing letter to TasWater attention was drawn to the fact that a courtesy letter had not been sent in this instance.

In response to the query about the two connections to the property, TasWater responded that it is not unusual for commercial properties to have multiple connections.  Further investigations undertaken by TasWater identified that the 20mm connection was actually located on a nearby vacant block of land and should never have been charged to the property in question.  As a result TasWater removed the service and meter from the complainant’s account and arranged for a refund of all charges associated with the 20mm service dating back to 1 July 2012, when TasWater commenced charging for the service.

Information was also provided about the location of the water meter that serviced the property and the program for replacement of these meters that is scheduled for 2018.

TasWater - February 2018

Stranded assets and responsibility for TasWater infrastructure

A complaint was received about TasWater and its response to a concern about a leaking pipe that was located in an area the complainant did not believe was his responsibility – between the stop tap and the water meter on the complainant’s property - and which he said had previously been repaired by TasWater.

TasWater conceded that its response to the complainant had not accorded with best practice.  It accepted that there had been no follow up provided in response to the complainant’s written complaint until after the complainant contacted TasWater for a second time, after the time frame that he had been provided by TasWater had passed.  TasWater has confirmed that the staff member who conducted the investigation into the complaint has been provided with feedback to ensure that a similar failure in communication does not happen again in the future.

TasWater has also addressed the issues raised about the leaking pipe and who is responsible for repairing it.

Usually TasWater is responsible for the infrastructure between the stop tap and the water meter.  In this situation, TasWater explained that the water meter was located under a concrete landing near the complainant's house.  This is referred to as a stranded asset or a ‘piggy back’ connection.  According to section 7.1.3 of the Price and Service Plan 2015-2018 issues relating to infrastructure between the connection point and the meters of stranded assets are the customer’s responsibility.  In this situation TasWater has identified that the leak is between the connection point at the property boundary and the meter.  Please refer to figure 16 from the Price and Service Plan 2015-2018 set out below.

House 1 has a standard connection and is classified as receiving a Full Service.

TasWater initially took the position that once the leak was repaired, it would relocate the meter to the connection point, eliminating the stranded asset situation.  TasWater pointed out that if the meter was moved prior to the leak being repaired, all the water usage would go through the meter resulting in the customer being charged for it.

Further information provided by TasWater indicated that it had accepted a quote from a contractor to repair the leak and relocate the meter and that it will cover the cost of the works.

TasWater did not use best practice when communicating with the complainant, however it acknowledged the error and provided feedback to the staff member in question.  TasWater also decided that in this instance it will take responsibility for the costs of repairing the leak as well as moving the meter.

Housing Tasmania - February 2018

Strata Title Policy

A complaint was received concerning the position of Housing Tasmania when it is an owner of a property that is part of a Strata Title Scheme where other Body Corporate members of the Scheme are private property owners.

Information was requested from Housing about existing policies and procedures in relation to Strata Title Schemes.  The response received indicated that at the present time no policy exists that can provided to this office.  Area Offices managed properties on a Strata Title based on the requirements of the individual property and its Strata Title Scheme.

Further information obtained from the Housing confirmed that a formal state-wide review and standardisation of policy and process is planned for 2018.  This will include producing a standardised overarching policy and procedure document covering compliance with individual Strata schemes.

A request was made for this information to be provided to this office after the review has been completed.

Tasmania Prison Service - February 2018

Participation in Family / Kids Day Risdon Prison

A complaint was received from an inmate at Risdon Prison in relation to his application to participate in a scheduled Family/Kids Day.  The inmate was told his application had been refused due to the nature of the offences he had committed (child sex offences).  The inmate had participated in the Family/Kids Day that had been held during previous school holidays and could not understand why his application had been refused this time.

Information provided by the Tasmanian Prison Service included specific criteria required to be met by an inmate before he/she is permitted to participate in the Family/Kids Day.  Inmates who have been convicted of child sex offences are not permitted to participate in the Family/Kids Day.  The inmate had been permitted to participate in the previous Family/Kids Day in error,  but that the error had been identified and when the inmate’s application was received this time, it was refused.

A review process for inmates who had received a refusal has been established and information was provided about how this works.

A suggestion was made to Tasmanian Prison Service that in future the specific criteria required for participation in Family/Kids Day should be explained to inmates and included on future application forms and posters advertising upcoming events.  This suggestion was accepted by Tasmanian Prison Service.

Retirement Benefits Fund - February 2018

Complaint about management of application

A complaint was received about the management of an application made to the Retirement Benefits Fund (RBF).  In particular the complainant raised concerns about the time taken by RBF to assess the application and the standard of communication provided to the complainant throughout the application process.

The application in question was processed during a period when RBF was undergoing a major restructure.  In addition, processing the application required RBF to obtain information from third parties, which at times gave rise to delays that were beyond RBF’s control. Nevertheless, the inquiries undertaken by this office showed that communications between RBF and the complainant had not been of the standard expected of RBF.  In particular, the complainant was not provided with an accurate time frame for the completion of the application process, and delays were not communicated or explained to the complainant.

As a result of this complainant being raised with RBF, an internal review was conducted which also identified that the level of communication between RBF and the complainant had not been of a satisfactory standard and that the process had taken longer than it should have.  The delay’s experienced by the complainant were not considered a systemic issue, rather RBF believed they had occurred as a result of the restructure being undertaken.

A suggestion was made to RBF that in future it might consider providing its members who were making any sort of application with more accurate information about expected timeframes and, in the event delays occurred, to keep members informed of any changes to timelines and expected completion dates.  It was also suggested that RBF consider offering members an apology in situations where it is clear that the communication and service experienced is not in accordance with RBF’s usual standards.

Tasmania Prison Service - February 2018

Public holidays and release dates

A complaint was received from an inmate who had resided, been arrested and been sentenced in the north of the state.  He was, however, accommodated in the south for the duration of his sentence.   The complaint concerned the release date that had been assigned to the complainant.  In particular he had been notified that his release day would fall on a public holiday in the south of the state.

Regulation 20 of the Corrections Regulations 2008 provides for the release of a prisoner, in the case of a sentence of more than 14 days, if the release falls on a Saturday, Sunday or public holiday, on a preceding weekday that is not a public holiday.  The Tasmania Prison Service, however, confirmed that it had been standard practice for prisoner release dates to take into account the area of the state the prisoner resided in prior to incarceration rather than where he or she had been accommodated whilst serving a sentence.

This meant that inmates were on occasion being released on public holidays and this in turn meant that access to public services (transport, banking services and community services) was extremely limited.

Advice was sought from the Solicitor General as a result of which this office formed the view that the proper release date for an inmate is to be determined by reference to whether a public holiday falls due in the place where the prisoner is located.

Since being provided with the advice from the Solicitor General the Tasmanian Prison Service has reconsidered its interpretation of the Regulation and in future, prisoners will be released based on where they are located and any public holidays that might be listed there.

Tasmania Prison Service - September 2017

Vegetarianism is a right, not a medical condition

A prisoner made a complaint about Prison Services’ failure to give him vegetarian food. The prisoner said he had received an appropriate chit from health staff the day before he contacted our office, but the prison had yet to provide him any meals.

After contacting Prison Services we were told that the prisoner had not received full medical authorisation to receive vegetarian meals at the time he made his complaint. However, since then, his chit had been endorsed by a doctor and he was now receiving the correct meals.

While this resolved the prisoner’s immediate issue about not getting vegetarian food, we chose to make further inquiries into why prisoners had to obtain medical authorisation before being put on vegetarian diets.

Section 29 of the Corrections Act 1997 grants prisoners the right to be provided with vegetarian meals where the prisoner is a vegetarian. A medical chit cannot prove or disprove if someone holds an ethical belief about whether they want to eat animals or not. Our office highlighted that we had dealt with, and resolved, a very similar complaint some years ago but it appears that Prison Services’ policy had regressed.

Prison Services consequently reviewed its policy and agreed to allow vegetarian prisoners to change their diets without medical authorisation. It advised that previous changes following a similar complaint from our office had only been partially implemented. Some changes were made at the time, specifically when new prisoners were being inducted they were given the option to choose either a standard or vegetarian menu. The process for prisoners who became vegetarian whilst in prison, however, had not changed and they were still required to obtain medical chits. This was updated as a result of our inquiries.

TasWater

Customer service

Ms N complained to the Ombudsman about the provision of incorrect information by, and the overall customer service she experienced in her dealings with TasWater.  Ms N had sought confirmation from TasWater as to the location of water and sewerage connections at a subdivided block she had purchased.  The Ombudsman made preliminary inquiries of TasWater and it transpired that TasWater had provided incorrect advice to Ms N and her conveyancer resulting in delay and confusion.

In recognition of the error, TasWater agreed to waive the connection charges for establishing water and sewerage connections to Ms N’s property. TasWater also acknowledged that its customer service, in handling Ms N original complaint to it, was not of its requisite standard.   As a result TasWater also made a $100 ex gratia payment to Ms N’s account to acknowledge the poor service she received.