The status and responsibilities of the National Ombudsman are established by the Dutch Constitution (Article 78a). As an institution, the National Ombudsman is one of the five ‘High Councils of State’ (the others being the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Council of State and the Court of Audit). An Act of Parliament (Wet Nationale ombudsman) was passed in 1981 to define the tasks and authority of the ombudsman.
In essence, the National Ombudsman is empowered to scrutinize the manner in which public sector authorities fulfil their statutory responsibilities. An investigation may be instigated at the Ombudsman’s own initiative or further to a complaint from a member of the public. The National Ombudsman is impartial and independent. He is appointed by the House of Representatives for a period of six years.
The National Ombudsman is concerned with virtually every area of public administration, from government ministries and their executive agencies (such as the Tax and Customs Administration), to the bodies which administer social benefits, the police, water boards, provinces and municipalities. Since 10 October 2010, the National Ombudsman also handles complaints relating to administrative agencies on the islands of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba, which are now ‘special municipalities’ of the Netherlands in the Caribbean.
Mission and strategy
The mission of the National Ombudsman is to safeguard the rights of the citizen in all dealings with administrative authorities. The Ombudsman will attempt to help citizens by investigating their complaints. He will advise where appropriate and can refer cases to the relevant public administration. He is alert to potential conflicts and will propose solutions intended to improve relations between the parties. The National Ombudsman helps governmental authorities to improve their own processes and procedures based on the findings of his investigations and published reports.
The strategy of the National Ombudsman is based on four core values:
- Alertness: the National Ombudsman is a modern, alert organization with a professional staff who know what citizens may expect from the government. The Ombudsman encourages public sector authorities to respect the rights of the citizen and to improve their own procedures and processes accordingly.
- Engagement: the National Ombudsman takes a proactive approach to contact with the general public. All complaints receive careful attention and are treated with respect.
- Creativity: the National Ombudsman encourages open discussion of any problems, providing encouragement and assistance to government authorities as they seek creative solutions or improvements.
- Accessibility: the National Ombudsman is accessible to all. Communication with the public is straightforward and relies on various channels, including social media.
The way we work
Anyone who has a complaint about the public administration of the Netherlands can contact the National Ombudsman. The complaint may be submitted in writing (a letter), by phone or online. The Ombudsman may refer the complaint to another competent authority. He may advise the complainant about how to proceed. In all cases, his aim will be to resolve the problem quickly. To that end, he will wish to hear both sides of the story.
There are several ways in which the National Ombudsman can deal with a complaint:
- Intervention. The Ombudsman will contact the public administration concerned to discuss the possibility of a rapid resolution. He will encourage the authority to contact the complainant directly by phone, letter or email in order to arrive at an outcome which is acceptable to all concerned.
- Mediation. The Ombudsman acts as an independent mediator between the complainant and the public administration. He may invite the parties to meet face to face. He will attempt to improve relations, clarify any points which require clarification, and may suggest ways in which to solve the problem amicably.
- Investigation and written report. If the Ombudsman decides to investigate a complaint in detail, he will ask both parties to provide further information. They are under a legal obligation to do so. Each party is given the opportunity to respond to the other’s point of view. The Ombudsman will then formulate his findings which are presented in a written report. This type of report is published (online).
- A letter. Where the outcome of an investigation is of interest only to the complainant, the Ombudsman may opt to present his findings in the form of a letter. He will also do so if he is unable to arrive at any firm conclusions. Letters are not published.
In 2017, at the National Ombudsman's request, an external company, Van de Bunt, carried out a study into the effectiveness of own initiative investigations by the National ombudsman. Read more about it here.