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October 09, 2013

BRITISH AND IRISH OMBUDSMAN ASSOCIATION ‘FIRST CONTACT’ INTEREST GROUP
 
12th meeting of the ‘First Contact’ Interest Group held on Friday, 24th May 2013 at Scottish Parliamentary Ombudsman, Edinburgh
 
On Thursday 23rd May 2013 our Public Relations Officer, Nadine Pardo-Zammit, travelled to Edinburgh for a First Contact Interest Group Meeting. This Group was set up in 2008 and brings together those concerned with ‘gateway’ services within the Ombudsman Association member schemes. It is an open forum to discuss how to deal with complaints and enquiries when they are first received. The Group meet twice a year and proves to be an extremely useful way of sharing information. This group is chaired by Ms Carol Neil, Advice and Outreach Manager of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Office (‘SPSO’).
 
A total number of 14 people attended the meeting representing schemes from the Parliamentary & Health Service Ombudsman, Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, The Adjudicators Office, Local Government Ombudsman, Pensions Ombudsman, Independent Case Examiner, Public Service Ombudsman for Wales, Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Housing Ombudsman Services, The Property Ombudsman and the Gibraltar Public Services Ombudsman.
 
The Agenda for this meeting proved to be extremely interesting with presentations and discussions on issues such as ‘Model Complaints Handling from a First Contact Perspective’, and ‘Communicating the right to request a review of an Ombudsman Decision’. We were also given updates from all the member Ombudsman services present at the meeting and there were general discussions on matters of interest or concern for each of the schemes.
 
Mrs Pardo-Zammit gave a presentation on the Gibraltar Public Services Ombudsman Offices initiative to introduce Skype as yet another way of contacting our office. The presentation was well received and led to a discussion on each schemes thoughts on this new mode of contact. 
 
Of special mention was also the fact that the SPSO had organised a Samaritans course entitled ‘Handling Difficult Contacts’ which had proved very insightful for employees at the SPSO. As a result of this course the team went on to explore the type of language used in particular circumstances, for instance, when dealing with difficult and distressed callers and from there the group agreed on a set of flip cards that explained the key questions that needed to be asked when faced with certain scenarios including examples of signposting, and how to deal with escalating calls and even threats of suicide.
 
As a result of this information the Office of the Ombudsman is currently in the process of organising this same course for our staff as well as other public entities.