An Alberta Ombudsman own motion investigation has led to changes by the Alberta Dental Association and College (ADAC) that will improve access to the organization’s complaint review process.
The Ombudsman’s investigation, launched in December 2015, was triggered after receiving complaints from Albertans asked to pay a $500 fee to request a review of the regulatory college’s decisions by its internal Complaint Review Committee (CRC).
Peter Hourihan, the Alberta Ombudsman, acknowledged the ADAC council met recently and passed a motion to reduce the fee to $200 and implement a process to allow complainants to request the fee be waived. However, Hourihan noted the college could have gone farther.
“While regulatory colleges have the legal right to levy these fees, I would be much more satisfied had the ADAC removed the fee altogether,” he said. “It would be one thing to levy fees on members of the college – in this case dentists – as they can provide input into those decisions through their membership. It’s another thing when it involves the public. When a public body imposes a fee to request reviews of its decisions, the public interest is not served if those fees become a barrier to the review processes enshrined in law, particularly for low income individuals. Just because a public entity can level a fee doesn’t mean it always should.”
The Ombudsman’s investigation also found evidence that, since the ADAC raised its review fee to $500 from $100 in 2013, the college has seen a substantial reduction in the number of reviews it conducts.
The Ombudsman’s three recommendations specifically related to the ADAC, which have been accepted by the college, ask them to:
- Develop a guidance framework for consideration when waiving the assessment of the fee on a discretionary basis;
- Provide public information on its website regarding the fee structure; and
- Implement a process to periodically review the fees and fully document the rationale for the fee.
The Ombudsman’s report provides a number of recommendations all regulatory colleges should consider, including asking them to:
- Ensure fee structures are established in bylaws as required by legislation;
- Document and address the issues they believe are grounds for imposing a fee;
- Take into consideration not everyone can pay and the higher the fee, the more onerous it is for some Albertans; and
- Build in discretion to waive a fee into their fee structure.
The investigation report has been provided to the departments of Health and Labour, given their legislative authority associated with regulatory colleges that charge fees to review decisions.
An independent office of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, the Ombudsman investigates complaints of unfair treatment by Alberta government departments, agencies, boards and commissions, regulatory colleges, as well as other authorities.
The Ombudsman may initiate an investigation on his own motion, as is the case in this investigation, when questions are raised about the administrative fairness of a program. Recommendations arising from these types of investigations are generally aimed at improving systemic issues.