The number of files keeps rising
The Federal Ombudsman was established on 3 January 1997. 25 years on, more and more people are calling on them for help. In 2021, they opened 8,202 new files. That is a 9 % increase compared to 2020 and a 20 % increase compared to 2019. That rise was due to the corona crisis which continues to take its toll on the relationship between citizens and the public administrations.
They continue to receive hundreds of complaints about the Hulpkas voor Werkloosheidsuitkeringen (HvW) [Auxiliary Unemployment Benefits Fund] and the unions. It remains difficult to contact the HvW and the unions and people still experience excessive delays in the payment of their unemployment benefits. The Federal Ombudsman also found that the corona crisis added to the complexity of the files.
Aside from issues associated with unemployment benefits, they received no end of complaints about the reimbursement of PCR tests, traffic fines, fines associated with cause-list duties and restrictions on the right to travel to visit a relative. On the whole, citizens most often contacted them in 2021 about the manner in which public authorities implemented the legislation and about the fact that they had to wait far too long for a reply to or a decision on their query. In more than 85 % of the justified complaints the Federal Ombudsman was able to find a solution.
Need for empathy
On the one hand, the pandemic presented the public administrations with major challenges. As they have to respect citizens’ rights, they must carry out their duties properly, even in the context of an unprecedented crisis. On the other hand, citizens are craving certainty like never before. They expect the authorities to take account of their situation and to empathise with them. The pandemic confirmed that empathy is key to a humane and qualitative service.
David Baele, Federal Ombudsman: “Since the early days in 1997 we have noted that what the people who contact us need is empathy. A listening ear and showing insight into their situation and needs is essential, especially in a crisis context. Empathy helps to bring about dialogue, to reconcile points of view and to restore the confidence that can be in short supply between citizens and the public administrations at times.”
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Source: Office of the Federal Ombudsman of Belgium