It took Victoria’s Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages more than a year to give a grieving mum birth and death certificates for her son who died when he was 18 weeks old.
A Victorian Ombudsman investigation into the Registry’s behaviour, published yesterday (Monday), found that its actions had likely prolonged the mother’s distress and grief and pointed to “serious service delivery problems” in the organisation, reflected in the growing number of complaints the Ombudsman had received.
Ms X gave birth to twins in 14 weeks prematurely in March 2015. One of the boys survived but the other died 4.5 months later. She battled for more than a year to get the Registry to issue birth certificates for both boys and death certificates for Twin A.
Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass uncovered a litany of failures in the way the Registry dealt with Ms X.
“A grieving parent, having lost an infant twin child seeking basic documentation about his very existence – found herself immersed in a bureaucratic netherworld,” said Ms Glass.
“Over 20 contacts with the Registry, with concerns still not resolved over 12 months, unanswered and unreturned phone calls, discovering the Registry had lost certified documents.”
Ms X had made a mistake on the form and had registered the births two months late but the Ombudsman chided the Registry for showing no understanding of the “intense sadness and despair” that Ms X had been going through.
Unfortunately, Ms X’s case was not an isolated one, said Ms Glass. Complaints about the Registry shot up from 14 cases in January 2016 to 34 cases in April 2016.
“Given the sensitive nature of much of its caseload, we would expect the Registry to fulfil its statutory obligations with efficiency and accuracy. But as this investigation demonstrates, far too often, this did not happen,” Ms Glass said.
“Sadly, Ms X’s experience with the Registry was not unique. My office had received an increasing number of complaints about the Registry and its delays in issuing certificates or responding to complaints.”
She said complaints were most often about long waits on the telephone that failed to resolve issues, sloppy or non-existent record keeping, poor communication and confusing policies.
Some people said they had waited more than two hours on the phone before having their calls cut off without speaking to Registry staff.
The Victorian Ombudsman recommended that there be an external audit of the Registry’s performance and business practices in 18 months’ time; that it consider the particular circumstances of each individual case and ensure applicants who have paid a fee are told if their application is non-compliant.
Ms Glass welcomed the response of the Department of Justice and Regulation in accepting the recommendations:
“The Department has acknowledged that the Registry has been experiencing serious service delivery problems, and happily, matters are improving with more staff engaged, improved technology and the adoption of complaint handling procedures. The further recommendations contained in this report will help the Registry do what all Victorians should reasonably expect from this key public service. ”
A restructure of the Registry between 2012 and 2015 cut the number of employees in back office roles. Registry employees fell from 111 FTE staff to 85 FTE and roles and responsibilities substantially changed.
Ms Glass mentioned in her report that agency cuts were at least partly responsible for the Registry’s poor performance.
But the report mentions that the Registry has been trying to clean up its act by hiring more staff, making IT improvements and adopting complaint handling procedures.
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