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Record year in the work of the Parliamentary Ombudsman of Finland

The English Summary of the Annual Report 2012 published

The English Summary of the Annual report 2012 by the Parliamentary Ombudsman of Finland has been published in print and on the web.

The summary in English includes commentary articles by the Ombudsman and the Deputy-Ombudsmen as well as a review of the ombudsman institution and it's activities in 2012.

The most important observations concerning implementation of fundamental and human rights that were made in oversight of legality during the year are compiled in the 3rd section. Statistical data is presented in the annexes.

The longest section of the original report, a review of oversight of legality and decisions by the Ombudsman by sector of administration, has been omitted from it.

The Constitution of Finland requires the Parliamentary Ombudsman to submit an annual report to the Parliament. This must include observations on the state of the administration of justice and any shortcomings in legislation. The original annual report is published in both national languages, Finnish and Swedish.

Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen presented his annual report for 2012 to the Speaker of the Parliament, Eduskunta on 31.5.2013.

From retrospective oversight of legality
towards developing the legal state

Ombudsman Jääskeläinen devotes his commentary article to dealing with investigations and explaining how the perspective has broadened in the Ombudsman's work.

This work no longer consists only of after-the-fact oversight of the legality of an authority's action and issuing rebukes for unlawful procedures that have been followed. In addition to this, the Ombudsman's work has the nature of guiding the actions of officials and authorities, developing the legal state and promoting fundamental and human rights. The perspective has shifted from oversight of authorities' observance of their duties towards promotion of people's rights. Activities are more and more oriented towards the future and are also launched on the Ombudsman's own initiative.

This can be seen in all of the Ombudsman's work. In the year under review, for example, he issued about 300 expressions of opinion intended for future guidance. What is involved in these cases is typically that an authority's solution or action has not actually been unlawful, but the Ombudsman takes the view that some other solution or action would have better promoted implementation of fundamental and human rights.

The various proposals and recommendations made by the Ombudsman also show clearly that his work is nowadays a lot more than just after-the-fact oversight of legality. He can recommend that an error or shortcoming be redressed, that legal provisions or regulations be developed, that recompense be made for a violation of a right or that a matter be resolved through a friendly settlement between an authority and a complainant. For example, recompense was recommended in a total of 24 cases in 2012.

Ombudsman Jääskeläinen believes that the perspective of developing the legal state and promoting fundamental and human rights will continue to strengthen in the Ombudsman's work. The establishment in 2012 of the Human Rights Centre and the Human Rights Delegation under the aegis of the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman will further strengthen this trend. The appointment of the Ombudsman as the national preventive mechanism that the UN Convention against Torture calls for and which has a specifically preventive task will also have an effect in this direction.

Kela facing challenges

Deputy-Ombudsman Jussi Pajuoja deals in his commentary article with the Social Insurance Institution's (Kela's) client service, in which major changes have taken place. Personal visits to Kela offices have largely been replaced by electronic transactions, which are made by especially students, families with children and unemployed persons.

Benefit applications are not necessarily decided on in local offices; instead, they are forwarded electronically to various parts of the country to be processed. This poses challenges with respect to the advice clients are given, because the personnel who give advice on services are not themselves experts in matters relating to benefits.

A critical question in client service is how it can be ensured that clients are sufficiently informed to apply for all of the benefits to which they may be entitled. If clients do not receive sufficiently detailed advice when they hand in their applications, there is a danger that the appeals system will become overloaded.

Another cause of concern is those who remain outside the scope of services, such as elderly people living alone, marginalised young people and persons with mental health problems. Although the threshold is low, they do not always turn to Kela and therefore do not receive the services to which they are entitled.

New procedures needed for social
protection of the elderly

The European Committee of Social Rights found in 2012 that Finland was in breach of the European Social Charter's provisions concerning the right of aged persons to social protection in the way that support agreements for informal home care were rescinded and fees for serviced housing determined.

Deputy-Ombudsman Maija Sakslin deals in her commentary article with the Ombudsman's work in overseeing respect for these rights.

The Ombudsman has emphasised in decisions on complaints that if a municipality rescinds an agreement on informal home care, it must ensure that the client's need for services, and if necessary also that of the person who has been caring for him or her, is assessed and that, on the basis of the application, social services and support measures in accordance with the client's needs and circumstances are arranged.

Providing support for informal home care is included in a municipality's general duty to arrange services. The municipality must include sufficient funding for this purpose in its budget. Deputy-Ombudsman Sakslin stresses that changes in the need for services and support must be actively tracked on the basis of inter alia explorations of the need for services and service plans.

In her view, treatment worthy of human dignity presupposes that information on planned changes is provided and people are given the opportunity to participate in decision making. For example, when the conditions for granting support for home care are changed or serviced housing is substituted for institutional care, the authority concerned must make notification of the changes and their significance on its own initiative, appropriately and in good time. An appealable decision must be given when the mode of care within the social welfare system is changed and client fees are set.

Deputy-Ombudsman Sakslin points out that accumulating fees for social services and health care may jeopardise implementation of a client's social and economic rights. New procedural methods should be created to deal with situations of this kind. Instead of income support or in addition to it, the client should be advised to apply to have the fee reduced or waived and the authority should, also on its own initiative, look into the prerequisites for altering the fee if the client is not able to do this him- or herself.

A record year

2012 was in many ways an exceptional year in the Ombudsman's work. The numbers of complaints received, decisions issued and inspections conducted were all greater than ever before.

The number of oversight-of-legality matters that were under investigation by the Ombudsman once again reached a new record last year; 4,723 cases were initiated, about 200 more than in the previous year.

The number of oversight-of-legality matters in which decisions were issued likewise increased, to 5,002. This is nearly 300 more than in 2011. The average time taken to deal with an oversight-of-legality matter was 5.4 months at year end.

The greatest number of decisions on complaints and arising from investigations on the Ombudsman's own initiative related to matters in the social security category. The other big categories of cases were the police, health care and the prison service.

A total of 882 decisions, about one in five, led to measures by the Ombudsman last year.

The number of inspections, 147, last year was also a record and 25% more than in the previous year.

The Human Rights Centre, which works under the aegis of the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman, issued its own annual report.

The English Summary of the Annual Report 2012, pdf