Case Summaries

Department of Communities Tasmania – January 2021

Quarantine fees

A complainant received an invoice for quarantining at a hotel despite it being free at the time she entered quarantine. We made inquiries with the Department of Communities Tasmania and established that an administrative error had been made. The exit date from quarantine, rather than the entry date, was used to calculate whether quarantine charges were applicable. As a result of our inquiries the Department requested that the State Controller withdraw the incorrectly issued invoice. The Department also indicated it would conduct an audit to ensure nobody else was incorrectly charged.

Ref: O2012-005

Tasmania Prison Service – January 2021

Inter-Prison Mail

A complaint was received from an inmate in relation to difficulties being experienced communicating with the complainant’s spouse, who was also an inmate at a Tasmanian Prison facility.

Information was requested from the Tasmania Prison Service concerning the relevant Director’s Standing Order, in particular the section that addressed inter-prison mail being approved where ‘…both prisoners have reached the appropriate contract level’ In particular, information was requested about what contract level was deemed an appropriate contract level to allow for inter-prison mail to be exchanged.

The response provided set out that inmates were required to attain a contract level 3 to be able to apply for approval to exchange mail with an inmate housed in another facility.

As a result of this complaint arrangements have been made to ensure that Standard Operating Procedures for all facilities are updated so each accurately reflects the entitlements and requirements for inter-prison mail.

Ref: O2011-112

Local Council – January 2021

Planning and Building Permits Oversight

A complaint was received about a local council in relation to its management of the construction of a parking bay by a private citizen in a public street. The complainant raised concerns that the parking bay was constructed on a public reserve, without any permit or consultation with the residents and owners of the neighbouring properties and restricted the accessibility of complainant’s property. A further concern raised was the failure of the council to respond to written complaints the complainant had made.

In response to the Ombudsman’s inquiries the council identified that part of the street where the parking bay had been constructed is not a highway. The council took the view that it was not responsible for the maintenance of the private section of the street and that repairs should be done as a collaborative approach from all the owners of properties adjoining the street.

Additional information confirmed that the council received an enquiry from an owner of land the street seeking to undertake work, being laying gravel and bitumen and making car parking spaces. The council responded with advice that it took no issues with what was proposed. Unfortunately, the works completed were in excess of what had been proposed.

The council has now taken the position that, whilst the construction exceeded that which was explained by the adjoining owner, the parking bays are structurally sound. Some minor safety improvements to the works have been completed at the direction of the council for the purpose of public safety. The council intends to take ownership of the parking bays and structure and the relevant permits will be obtained as part of that process.

The council accepted that the correct process was not followed to construct the parking bays and it has addressed this by taking ownership of the parking bays and making them available to members of the public. The council also retains the power to remove the structures in the future if required.

In response to the customer service issues raised by the complainant, council staff have been counselled as to the importance of identifying a complainant for the purpose of investigating or responding to a complaint. The council has issued an apology to the complainant acknowledging it had not adhered to the correct process and that the council’s Customer Service Charter had not been followed. The council has also provided the Ombudsman with additional material showing that the Charter has since been updated and a Complaints Handling Procedure has also been developed.

Ref: O2007-136

TasWater – September 2020

Delayed reaction to water quality concerns

Ms K made four complaints about poor water quality due to discoloration at her Derwent Valley property in March 2017, August 2018, December 2018 and February 2019. TasWater stated that it reviewed her complaints when they occurred but did not consider further action was needed. It said that water quality complaints are escalated in certain circumstances but the length of time between her complaints meant that this did not occur in Ms K’s matter.

After concerns were raised by the Ombudsman about water quality, low pressure and the location of her meter, it was found that Ms K’s water meter was located significantly outside her property on another person’s private land and the relevant pipework was all older galvanised pipe. This was likely the cause of the water discolouration and Ms K’s inability to previously fix the issue, as it related (at least in part) to pipework which was not located on her property.

TasWater has now replaced the galvanised pipe, paid for a stop tap to be installed at Ms K’s boundary to enable her to fix her own ageing plumbing, and is working towards a longer term solution for the non-standard connection arrangement impacting Ms K and a number of her neighbours. A consistent policy on the management of non-standard or legacy connections is also being finalised by TasWater.

While TasWater’s actions to address Ms K’s complaint since it was raised by the Ombudsman have been appropriate, it is unfortunate that these actions were not taken on any of the four occasions on which Ms K raised these issues directly with TasWater. It should not take the intervention of the Ombudsman for proper assessment of complaint issues to occur, particularly when a customer has repeatedly raised concerns and endured potentially resolvable water quality issues for years.

Ref: O1911-061

Tasmania Prison Service – August 2020

Cell checks prior to a prisoner moving to a new cell

An inmate contacted the Ombudsman and raised concerns about the failure by correctional staff to complete a cell check prior to his moving into a new cell. An additional issue arose when contraband was located in the inmate’s cell within 24 hours of being relocated to the new cell. The inmate is appealing the booking that resulted from the contraband being located in the cell.

Tasmania Prison Service acknowledged that contrary to usual processes the cell check had not been completed in this instance and the accompanying documentation had not been completed by correctional staff. As a result of this complaint, correctional staff supervisors have been reminded of the importance of completing the cell check documentation and it will be added to the staff briefs to remind unit staff of their responsibilities.

O2007-117

Glenorchy City Council – July 2020

Traffic calming measures

A complaint was received about the Glenorchy City Council alleging that it had failed to respond to long-standing issues relating the use of the complainant’s road by illegal trail bike riders. The complaint also raised concerns about Council’s failure to install adequate infrastructure to prevent trail bike riders entering local fire trails.

As part of Council’s response to this complaint arrangements were made for the Council’s Manager Infrastructure, Engineering and Design to meet the complainant on site to discuss the complainant’s concerns and to explain the existing measures that had been enacted. Additional information provided by Council to Ombudsman Tasmania showed that it had already complied with the existing Traffic Calming Devices Policy.

The meeting with the complainant led to additional traffic barriers being installed by Council, which Council hopes will result in trail bike riders having to significantly reduce the speed they are travelling if they wish to access the fire trails.

The complainant provided the Ombudsman with feedback stressing how pleased he was with the outcome and the fact that a Council representative had met with him on site, so the complainant had an opportunity to fully explain and demonstrate his concerns.

O2004-051

Aurora Energy – July 2020

Keeping Authorised Agent details up-to-date

We received two complaints concerning Aurora Energy’s management of authorised agents.

Aurora Energy’s customers can appoint an agent for their account who has permission to discuss the account with Aurora Energy and make decisions such as disconnecting power supply. The agent is linked to the customer’s ‘profile’ with Aurora Energy. This means that a customer can move on multiple occasions, or even disconnect their power and years later connect power at a different address, but the agent remains as they are not linked to a property address but to the customer.

The complaints arose as the complainants’ authorised agents were contacted regarding a debt and a routine enquiry. Both complainants had moved address, one complainant several times due to family violence, so did not realise that the authorised agents were still on their accounts. In one case some personal information was disclosed that caused the complainant to feel unsafe. In both cases, the authorised agents were added over a decade ago.

I reviewed the complaints under the Personal Information Protection Act 2004 and determined that there had not been a breach of a personal information protection principle as the complainants had agreed to have the agents appointed. I formed the view, however, that Aurora Energy’s management of authorised agents was not best practice.

  • Aurora Energy did not check the currency of the authorised agent data in either case after the details were added, even after changes of address. Aurora Energy indicated that the onus was on the customer to update their agent information and referenced part of the script read out to the customers at the time, ‘This authority will remain legally in force until you notify Aurora Energy that it is no longer required.’ I did not consider this to be entirely reasonable. The management of agents was premised on customers understanding how Aurora Energy’s account system operated and the standard script read out at the time agents were appointed was not sufficiently clear to create an adequate understanding.
  • The information provided to the complainants at the time they added authorised agents did not make it clear that the agent attached to the customer’s profile as opposed to the specific property address and so included any future accounts at new property addresses that may be created.
  • The only means to find out if a customer has an authorised agent is to ask an Aurora Energy staff member, there is no information available on online accounts regarding agents.

Aurora Energy conducted an internal review as a result of the complaints it received about the issue. The review has made a number of positive changes, including:

  • removing approximately 15,400 agents (30% of authorised agents) attributed to accounts which did not have a current electricity account. This means the customer will need to reauthorise an agent if they establish a new connection. Aurora Energy indicated this will assist in maintaining currency of data;
  • making the script read out to customers when an agent is appointed clearer. The new script outlines what the authorised agent can do and their ability to have full access to all account and personal details, including past, current and future accounts;
  • adding a new step for the process followed by Aurora Energy staff when a customer moves in or out of an address to audit the currency of the agent;
  • Aurora Energy’s staff will be able to use their discretion to remove an authorised agent from a customer’s account. Aurora Energy outlined its new business process is that if a staff member is speaking with an agent and identifies that there is no longer a relationship between the customer and the agent, the conversation will be politely ended and no customer account information will be disclosed. Aurora Energy said that while consent had previously been provided to discuss the account information with the agent, it recognises that it has an obligation not to disclose information if there are reasonable grounds to suspect the agent is no longer valid; and
  • taking steps to have agent names displayed on future Aurora Energy digital products.

I also asked Aurora Energy what steps it will be taking to publicise this issue so that victims of family violence are aware they may need to remove authorised agents given some people:

  • may not have moved since these changes have been introduced; or
  • may not use Aurora Energy digital products (some of which need to be paid for).

Aurora Energy advised that it is in process of finalising a family violence policy which will be published on its website. It said that this is not currently a mandated policy under the National Energy Retail Rules but Aurora Energy has recognised the benefits of such a document so decided to implement it regardless. The policy will include a section on authorised agents.

Aurora Energy’s proactive response to these complaints will significantly improve the currency of authorised agent data. It should hopefully lessen the chance of personal information being disclosed to people who may no longer have a relationship with Aurora Energy’s customers.

O1909-108 and O1911-020

Department of State Growth - June 2020

Return of Driver Licence following Disqualification

A complainant contacted the Ombudsman after experiencing frustrations with getting her driver’s licence back following a period of disqualification. In particular, the complainant was upset that she had not received a letter from the Department of State Growth, Registration and Licensing Services 60 days before being able to re-apply for her licence. The complainant alleged this delay made getting her licence back more difficult and added to the time she went without a licence.

The Department of State Growth responded to inquiries undertaken by this office and provided information setting out the actions required when a person reapplies for a licence. When a licence is cancelled, the returning driver needs to reapply for it to be reissued. In order for the complainant’s licence to be reissued, she was required to submit to an assessment and approval process, due to the offences that resulted in her having her licence cancelled.

When the complainant contacted Service Tasmania about getting her licence back, she was referred to the Driver Licensing Department (as this was the appropriate area to review a licence application). Driver Licensing wrote to the complainant on the same day and provided information about what was required to complete an assessment for a licence again. Unfortunately, the letter sent from the Department of State Growth was not sent until 3 days before the complainant was eligible to reapply for her licence.

The Department of State Growth, Licensing Services view standard letters that are (usually) sent to returning drivers as a courtesy, not a requirement. The responsibility still rests with the returning driver to confirm what he or she needs to do to get their licence returned at the end of any period of disqualification.

The Department of State Growth acknowledged that it is standard process for drivers returning from a period of disqualification and licence cancellation to receive a letter from the Registrar of Motor Vehicles before the end of the period of disqualification, advising of what is required to have their licence re-issued. In the complainant’s case, this did not occur. This oversight was explained as being due to the offence the complainant had been charged with being a relatively new offence and it had not had a code allocated to it in the Motor Registry System. It was therefore not identified as requiring a letter to be sent out.

As a result of this complaint, this oversight has been identified and a review is being undertaken to make sure that all offence codes are correctly identified by the Motor Registry System.

Ref: O2004-095

Tasmania Prison Service - May 2020

Non-compliant strip search of a young person

I received a complaint from a young person who was strip searched at the Hobart Reception Prison. I made preliminary inquiries and confirmed that the search had not been compliant with the Directors Standing Order (DSO) 1.10 Searching, which sets out the rules for searches, including young people.

A new risk assessment process was introduced in July 2019 to determine whether a young person needs to be strip searched. The young person was considered a low risk so a full personal search, or a strip search, was not required. However, contraband was found at a later stage which required a full personal search to be conducted under the risk assessment process.

The decision to conduct the strip search was therefore in accordance with the requirements of the prison. The search process, however, was not compliant. The DSO requires that a person is only ever half naked when a full personal search needs to occur but this was not followed as the young person was completely naked during the search.

Our inquiries identified that the initial Prison Service review of this incident failed to identify that the half and half process was not followed. As a result of our inquiries the staff involved were counselled, all staff were reminded of the half and half requirements, which apply to all people being strip searched, and the Director of Prisons provided a written apology to the young person.

The Prison Service also conducted an internal review of the strip searching of young people as a result of this and one other complaint I received from another young person. This review resulted in a number of positive improvements being made to processes and procedures to better protect the privacy of young people and ensure that the searching of young people is effectively monitored to confirm the DSO is being followed.

Ref: O1909-161