The Canadian Press
November 2, 2016
TORONTO -- Ontario's Family Responsibility Office, which enforces court-ordered child and spousal support payments, tops the list of provincial government organizations generating complaints to the ombudsman's office.
Ombudsman Paul Dubé said his office received 1,025 complaints about the Family Responsibility Office in the past fiscal year -- down from 1,167 the previous year-- many of them about inconsistencies in enforcement.
At times the agency was too aggressive in trying to enforce payment orders, but at other times wasn't aggressive enough, added Dubé.
"FRO officials failed to take any additional enforcement action for several years against a man who owed $300,000 in arrears," he said. "Yet in other cases they pursed people whose support obligations were met, like one man whose salary was garnished by 50 per cent, even though he had actually overpaid the FRO."
Another man called the ombudsman from jail after being arrested for failing to pay child support arrears, but said he didn't know he owed anything. The Family Responsibility Office had sent the man's notices to the wrong address even though it had his correct address on file, and eventually sent him an apology after the ombudsman's office intervened.
"In the last year we've been very encouraged by the positive changes that we're seeing at the Family Responsibility Office, including some new leadership there," Dubé said as he released his annual report. "They have a service charter and service standards and a new complaint process, so we're going to give that some time to take hold and see what goes."
The opposition said the Liberals have had 13 years to make changes at the FRO, yet it continues to generate complaints from the people it is mandated to help.
"After complaints about electricity costs in Ontario, we hear mostly from people who are struggling to navigate the Family Responsibility Office," said Progressive Conservative critic Todd Smith. "It's layered with people who aren't doing their jobs and are not responding to the needs of people in our communities."
New Democrat Jagmeet Singh called the ombudsman's report on the Family Responsibility Office "very troubling," and said he's concerned.
"This government is just failing on the fundamentals time and time again," he said.
Both the Tories and NDP also pointed out that last year's ombudsman's report listed more than 10,000 complaints about Hydro One, the transmission utility that also serves as a local electricity distribution company for 1.3 million homes, mainly in rural and northern Ontario.
However, the Liberals removed Hydro One from the ombudsman's mandate when they started selling up to 60 per cent of the giant utility last year.
"The government decided to relieve themselves of that problem by selling off Hydro One and removing oversight from the ombudsman," said Smith.
The NDP said removing Hydro One from the ombudsman's purview was proof the Liberals do not believe in transparency.