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The Ombudsman

Many citizens of New York are confused about the difference in the Public Advocate's Office and the 311 line, which is for information and referral. If a citizen is unsure which department he needs to call for help with a particular problem, he should dial 311 from any telephone. The operators who answer this call are very knowledgeable about all of the services that are available from the government. They are equipped to do two things almost exclusively. The first is to listen to your problem and refer you to the corect agency or government entity that will help you to solve your problem. They do not attempt to assist you or advise you, simply to direct you to the appropriate place. Secondly, the 311 operators can receive your complaint about an agency or government entity and pass it on to the appropriate person at that agency. They do not do any follow up to ensure that your problem was addressed or that a solution was found. They simply report the issue.

A citizen who is expecting help with a government agency is advised to contact the New York Public Advocate's Office. It is this organization that employs individuals in the Ombudsman's Department who will help a citizen who has a problem with a government agency or entity. It is these Ombudsmen who are trained to interpret a problem and ensure that it is being handled by the correct department. They take on the citizen's issue in a case-worker type fashion and follow the problem to its conclusion. There are many avenues that an employee of the Public Advocate's office will take to solve a problem. It is these people who will educate a citizen on his or her appeals or review process and the help them through the procedure every step of the way.

The procedure is quite simple. A citizen contacts the Ombudsman's office and gives the details of the case or problem. The officer will determine the best course of action and assign that case to an Ombudsman on the staff who specializes in these types of problems, whether it is traffic tickets, potholes or zoning issues. That person will contact the citizen within seven business days and the process of solving the problem will begin.

Contacting the appropriate agency and following the directions given by an expert are two things that can help to insure that a problem will be solved in a positive and timely manner.

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