Ombudsman ADR: The “Due Care” Process

Recently a young couple from Ontario Canada emailed me asking for my “intervention” on their behalf with the Ontario Provincial Ombudsman’s Office.  Their expectation was clearly that I would “leap into action” and make everything “right” based on their perceptions of my blog and the drastic economic hardship situation they’re in, still in this moment; and that I could “fix” it.  Their communication and situation, as it is with millions of people nowadays, was filled with panic and chaos in the messages and material they emailed to me.  I have to admit, I initially took the “case” at face value with the idea that I could “facilitate” and expedite their issue that was pressing in on them in their dire quest towards getting “communication” going with officials in government.  This case is about not taking short cuts, making assumptions, but remaining diligent and objective at all times; and keeping with “due care”… here’s why.

In business we’ve all heard of “due diligence”, the process in business and finance of determining the validity of information, peoples identity, facts, confirmation, the truth and many other factors in what is usually a very long checklist of items needed for a broad variety of organizations to “make a decision” and determine risk prior to any formations, transactions or partnerships.  “Due Care” is less diligent, but highly relevant for our profession in terms of determining the validity of a complaint, fact checking and then getting the information from “others” or various sources so as to form a basis, substantiate or confirm information provided by everyone party to the complaint or issue.

For this couple the concise issue was very complex, more complex than I realized after saying “yes” email it all.  By the way, the good thing about Gmail is whole “conversations” come over “in tact and in sequence”; and in this case this saved me tons of time as I could read pages of email in order of response (or see gaps) by each Canadian government agency.  In brief, the case is about an “engaged to be married” couple (complainants) who have put off the ceremony due to the economy and her loss of job, his loss of “normal” overtime hours, their apartment complex going “condo association” and being forced to move (about now from what I remember) their financial obligations on student loans, credit card debt, funds needed to put down deposits to move and the “key” issues of child support to his 3 children with his ex-common law wife who is now remarried.  I can’t help but put here, “are all of you who are considering an ombudsman career ‘sure’ you want to do this?”  Anyway, I took the case knowing I’m “on the outside working in” as the dynamic if I’m to take any “direct contact” approach, but am hoping to “coach” them to resolve it themselves.

After days of review on my “down time” I started my “due care” process.  I didn’t take a complaint form as it was not applicable.  Soon what became the core finding was that the government office that makes adjustments in decrease or increase in child support levels year to year had then forward their “findings” to the court.  The “court orders” their child support rate obligations to the 3 children changed, in this case it was  “significantly up” and final “hearings” to confirm this were pending.  To the couples credit they “did the math”, I was proud of them, as they sent the percentage calculations over to me on their “one person” salary income household, subtracted obligations and the new percentage of income the increase in child support represented as a “chunk” shall we say, of their total household income.  Calculations were also correct.  In the end, long story short again, calculations by the government office and given to the court were formulated on 2008 wages, which were “loaded” with overtime hours.  Now, for 2009, everything has collapsed, their normal two wage earner household now unable to “gross minimum wage” anymore and the “threat” of being “forced” by government to comply looms over them with possible seizures of bank accounts and drivers license suspensions (needed to go to work).  What I was able to do was find where a few “missteps” on their part in the government policy and procedure had been “anxiously circumvented” rather than processed in “order of sequence” and so we got them back on track by now filing an “objection form” with the government agency and I helped them “refine and consolidate” their message.  I am confident “O’ Canada”, you will listen to your citizens needs here and be “fair”.  I’ve “kept the door open” for this couple and have not heard back in about 5 weeks now, but it should proceed okay now as they are “back in sequence” with government procedures on their issue.

Additionally, all OO’s in this type of scenario can provide advice and “listen” so as to “calm panic”.  You can provide “wisdom” about available community resources, sharing a place to live with others in similar situations temporarily, identify resources in their community for them as they are “focused” on the crises and not focused in making choices to “sustain” themselves; and much more.  Be careful about “credit counseling” as this is a separate profession and industry that is regulated; and so don’t make a “mistake” and over step your due process while exercising your “due care” procedures.

In the end this case never required that I “engage” the Canadian Ombudsman’s Provincial Office in Ontario.  The clients had contact them and received “no response”, but I suspect it’s because the couple had not exhausted proper procedure with the responsible government agencies they were “complaining” about.  Due Care requires “we” insure such processes are exhausted and completed before an ombudsperson engages.  If “due care” and taking time to review “every word” of the case had not been completed “diligently”, I could have “over stepped” or even worse; advised them into taking action maybe creating a  “polarizing” incident.  You too then?  Due Care at all times, be sure, be professional, be objective and consider policy and procedure of those entities clients have “issues” about in complex scenarios.

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