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Deputy-Ombudsman reprehends ARA on two accounts

A subsidy for the parents of a severely disabled child intended for making their home more accessible was not considered appropriately due to the failings of the Housing Finance and Development Centre of Finland ARA.

Deputy-Ombudsman Maija Sakslin finds that the municipality and ARA were in breach of the law. The municipality failed to bring the subsidy process to a completion, and ARA cancelled the municipality's fund reservation for a subsidy without appropriately investigating the case.

Sakslin proposes that ARA, the Ministry of the Environment and the municipality jointly consider how they could offer reasonable financial compensation to the complainants for the negligence shown in dealing the matter.

- As part of social security enshrined in the Constitution, public authorities must support the possibilities of those responsible for the care of a child of safeguarding the child's welfare and individual development, notes Sakslin.

Sakslin requested that the parties report by the end of the year on measures taken as a consequence of her proposal.

The complaint was filed with the Parliamentary Ombudsman by the child's parents. In 2010, they had applied to the municipality for a renovation subsidy to pay for repairs required in their one-family house because of their child's need for care.

Conflicting and incomplete reports

Based on the information available  Deputy-Ombudsman Sakslin finds clear inconsistencies in the chain of events and interpretations of the matter.

According to information provided by the municipality, only a few thousand euro would have been available for the renovation project under the Act on services and assistance for the disabled (vammaispalvelulaki, 380/1987). For this reason, the municipality granted the parents a renovation subsidy amounting to 41% of the approved costs, of some EUR 40,000, under the Act on renovation and energy subsidies (korjausavustuslaki 1184/2005).

In 2011, the parents applied for a payment of the renovation subsidy, and the municipality made a fund reservation at ARA. According to the information provided by the municipality, the municipality had responded to ARA's request for further information and submitted to it the renovation plans, drawings and other documents. The municipality had also approved a subsidy of EUR 3,000 to be issued to the complainants under the Act on services and assistance for the disabled.
The municipality states that it had no legal grounds for not paying out the subsidy. As ARA had not approved the subsidy requested by the municipality, the matter was not brought to a conclusion.

According to information provided by ARA, it had cancelled the municipality's request for funds, as the renovation allowance was a secondary subsidy, and the municipality had not established the possibilities of granting  a subsidy under the Act on services and assistance for the disabled. According to ARA, the municipality had also not submitted the requested information within the deadline.

ARA also pointed out in their statement that it is not part of their duties to provide direct guidance to beneficiaries, or to respond to enquiries concerning subsidy decisions. It only provides guidance to municipalities in the form of once-yearly instructions.

Deputy-Ombudsman Sakslin notes that ARA's statement does not identify the documents or document register data on which ARA based their view that the municipality, in contrast to what the municipality has stated, had not provided the requested additional information within the deadline, or indicate the grounds on which ARA was entitled to cancel the municipality's request for appropriations.

ARA neglected its duty to provide advice and guidance

Sakslin finds that the procedure concerning a renovation subsidy that would have supported the care and well-being of a disabled child in need of particular support failed because of ARA's negligences.

ARA should have considered the municipality's request for appropriations under the Act on renovation and energy subsidies, at the latest when the municipality notified ARA of having granted a subsidy to the complainants under the Act on services and assistance for the disabled.

Neither did ARA have legal grounds for cancelling the municipality's request for appropriations, as an adequate and appropriate investigation of the case would have been a requisite for considering the matter correctly.

Under the Act on renovation and energy subsidies, ARA has the duty to guide and supervise municipalities in granting appropriations and the related procedures. Sakslin finds that ARA neglected this duty when it failed to respond to enquiries made by the municipality and also those made by the complainants.

Law was breached in the considering of a lift subsidy

In the context of another complaint, housing company board members had approached ARA in 2012 and 2013 by telephone, e-mail and a registered letter to enquire about the considering of an application for a lift subsidy submitted by the housing company in 2010. ARA had failed to respond to a single enquiry made in writing.

During this period, the housing company was forced to make decisions on its financial statements and discharge from liability  on the basis of inadequate information. ARA only provided information on the considering of the case in its statement to the Parliamentary Ombudsman given as a result of a complaint.

Deputy-Ombudsman Sakslin finds that as a state aid authority referred to in the Act on renovation and energy subsidies, ARA should have met the requirements laid down in the Administrative Procedure Act concerning appropriate service and the duty to provide advice to its customers. In addition, ARA should have responded to the enquiries made by the parties concerning progress of the matter.

Sakslin notes that the Administrative Procedure Act and the requirements of good administration laid down in it concerning appropriate service and productivity have been in force for the last ten years.

- I find it a cause for concern that regardless of this, ARA failed in its duty to arrange its services so that appropriate service could be provided to customers of the administration. Neither did ARA provide advice for taking care of an administrative matter, or respond to enquiries concerning its processing.


The full text of Deputy-Ombudsman Sakslin's decisions no 328/4/13 and 1657/4/13, in Finnish.
Further information is available from Senior Legal Adviser Ulla-Maija Lindstörm, tel. +358 (0)9 3355