Terms of Reference
Our Terms of Reference explains the work we do.
Terms of Reference
Purpose and Scope
- The Ombudsman investigates and resolves the public’s complaints about Hydro One’s services by acting as an office of last resort within the company.
- The main purpose of the Ombudsman is to:
- address procedural and substantive unfairness, along with ensuring equitable treatment. This is done by identifying and helping the company fix errors, decisions, and omissions that may have created problems with its services;
- handle unresolved complaints made by complainants and facilitate their fair resolution;
- conduct systemic reviews into issues and/or trends that will lead to improvements in programs and systems;
- support Hydro One in holding its employees accountable for carrying out the company’s directives and their responsibilities as it pertains to serving the public;
- support the Board of Directors (“Board”) in its mandate to govern in a just, fair and equitable manner.
- The Ombudsman is an office of last resort within Hydro One for complaints about the company. The Office addresses unresolved complaints following the company’s complaint processes.
- The scope of the Ombudsman’s mandate encompasses complaints made about Hydro One and any of its subsidiaries.
- A complainant should exhaust the company’s complaint processes before turning to the Ombudsman. Hydro One must first be given the opportunity to address a complainant’s concern and explain the decision, remedy the mistake or mitigate the complaint in some other way as and if appropriate to the circumstances.
- There are exceptions to this:
- where there is excessive delay in responding, the Ombudsman may intervene and make inquiries on a complainant’s behalf;
- where the complainant or group of individuals is marginalized or vulnerable, the Ombudsman may intervene or make inquiries on their behalf;
- the Ombudsman can independently initiate a systemic investigation.
- The Ombudsman has absolute discretion to decide whether a complaint is within the scope and jurisdiction of the Office.
- The Ombudsman may consult external experts or consultants as required at Hydro One’s expense.
Independent and Impartial
- The Ombudsman shall at all times serve as an independent and impartial arbiter of complaints and shall not act as an advocate for Hydro One, the complainant or any other person. Instead, the Ombudsman acts as an advocate for fairness.
Authority, duties and responsibilities
- The Ombudsman derives authority from Section 48.3 of the Electricity Act – as amended by Bill 91.
- The Ombudsman shall:
- act in keeping with these Terms of Reference and the Board’s mandate for the Ombudsman;
- adhere to the standards, policies and practices created by the Office;
- receive and review or investigate complaints with a view to achieving a resolution that is fair to both the complainant and Hydro One;
- make recommendations, as appropriate, to Hydro One for improvements, changes, remedial action and/or enhancement of programs, activities, services and associated policies;
- provide complainants with reasons for decisions made and adhere to standards of Ombudsman decision-making;
- help complainants define issues, evaluate options and use the complaint resolution processes of Hydro One and the OEB as appropriate;
- work with the Ontario Energy Board to maintain integrated procedures for liaising with Hydro One customers and inquiring into matters raised by customers with the Ombudsman, which may include disclosing the status or outcome of an investigation and/or providing a copy of the final response letter delivered to a complainant; and
- advise the public about the procedures for making a complaint to the Ombudsman, to Hydro One or any other appropriate body.
- The Ombudsman shall not:
- provide legal advice to complainants or to Hydro One;
- accept notice on behalf of Hydro One;
- be bound by the rules of evidence.
Duty of Confidentiality
- Matters relating to the Ombudsman’s reviews and investigations shall be kept confidential. Office files are confidential and are protected from disclosure for all purposes unless required by law.
- The discussions and correspondence of the complainant, Hydro One and the Office that form part of the dispute resolution process shall not be disclosed or used in any ongoing or subsequent legal or other proceedings.
- The Ombudsman is responsible for the Office’s compliance with all applicable legislation protecting the privacy of personal information as well as the Office’s own privacy policies and procedures.
- The Ombudsman shall have policies and procedures to preserve the Ombudsman’s duty of confidentiality and protect the confidentiality of complainants and complaints.
- Notwithstanding any of the provisions of these Terms of Reference, the Ombudsman and the Office may disclose information to the company’s employees and agents in the course of carrying out their activities, provided the employees and agents are subject to the same confidentiality obligations as the Ombudsman.
- Notwithstanding any of the provisions of these Terms of Reference, the Ombudsman may disclose the outcome of the investigation to the company and provide a copy of the final response letter delivered to the complainant, if applicable.
- The Ombudsman may delegate powers and duties to the employees of the Office, including but not limited to the powers of investigation, mediation, and facilitation of complaints. Those powers include the ability to request and receive information from all parties involved so that a complaint may be acted on.
- The Ombudsman shall have service standards for the handling and resolution of complaints.
- The Ombudsman shall also have service standards that define reliable, consistent and equitable service to complainants, Hydro One and the public.
- The Ombudsman shall have accessibility standards for people with disabilities that ensure accessible and equitable treatment for all visitors to the Office.
- The Office shall abide by the values and ethics articulated by the Ombudsman (see hydrooneombudsman.com).
- The Ombudsman shall determine and update from time to time the procedures for filing a complaint and for reviewing and investigating complaints.
- The Office will routinely try to resolve a complaint without a formal investigation using a variety of dispute resolution techniques.
- The Ombudsman and staff will determine whether an investigation is warranted in connection with any complaint.
- The Ombudsman shall inform complainants and provide them with written or verbal reasons as to why the Office has decided not to investigate a complaint or to discontinue an investigation when that decision is taken.
- It is up to the Ombudsman to decide whether to table the final report with the Board.
- The Ombudsman will not generally investigate a complaint or continue to review or investigate a complaint, if:
- the complainant has not yet submitted the complaint in accordance with Hydro One’s complaints handling processes;
- Hydro One has not substantially completed its investigation or determined not to further investigate the complaint;
- the Ombudsman is satisfied that the complaint is malicious, unreasonable, frivolous or vexatious;
- the complaint is the subject of litigation or a material portion of the records relating to the complaint no longer exist (generally seven years after the matter in question).
- The Ombudsman will not consider or accept:
- a new complaint in which the subject matter and the parties are the same, or substantially the same, as those addressed in another complaint in which the Ombudsman has already reached a decision;
- a complaint about an issue that is more than one year old, unless the circumstances that gave rise to the complaint are ongoing or there are other compelling circumstances which warrant an investigation;
- a request to reconsider a complaint, unless, in exceptional circumstances, the Ombudsman is of the opinion that:
- significant evidence or facts have now come to the attention of the Ombudsman that were not available at the time, or were not taken into account in the Ombudsman’s consideration of the concluded complaint; and
- had such evidence or facts been available or taken into account, it is reasonably likely that the decision or conclusion reached in relation to the concluded complaint would have been substantially different.
- The Office may initiate an investigation into matters that affect more than one customer when the Ombudsman determines it is warranted, regardless of whether there is a specific complaint.
- The Ombudsman shall provide a notice of intent to the Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) when formally initiating a systemic investigation.
- At the conclusion of a systemic investigation and before the Ombudsman issues a final report, the Ombudsman will provide the CEO with an opportunity to review and make representations about the draft investigation report, along with an opportunity to accept or reject part or all of the Ombudsman’s recommendations.
- Upon completion, the results of a formal systemic investigation will be reported to the Board with individual information appropriately redacted.
- Prior to the Ombudsman commencing an investigation of a complaint, the complainant must provide consent, which includes an acknowledgement of the Ombudsman’s procedures and a confidentiality agreement.
Right to Withdraw or Discontinue
- Complainants shall retain the right to withdraw or discontinue their complaint at any stage.
- The Ombudsman will make no charge to complainants for the consideration of their complaints.
Provision of Information and Cooperation
- All representatives of Hydro One will give the Ombudsman free and unrestricted access to all Hydro One books, records, files, correspondence, transcripts and other data, documents and information, financial or otherwise (collectively, “data”), and all Hydro One personnel, subject to applicable law and attorney-client privilege.
- The Ombudsman has the right to make and retain copies of any such data. The complainant will similarly provide the Ombudsman with access to all their information.
- The Ombudsman is not required to give reasons for requesting access to data or personnel.
- The Ombudsman will be appointed by Hydro One’s Board.
- The Board is responsible for overseeing the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman is accountable to the Board through the Governance Committee (“Committee”).
- The Board does not consider specific complaints in order to maintain the independence and impartiality of the Ombudsman.
- The final decision concerning complaints rests with the Ombudsman. There is no appeal to the Board, nor can the Board influence the decisions of the Ombudsman.
- The Ombudsman will report to the Board, through the Committee, orally and in writing, on not less than a quarterly basis. The report will include statistics, activities and information about current and anticipated systemic issues and ongoing systemic investigations.
- In relation to individual complaints:
- The Board shall not:
- seek the identity of any complainant who has made an inquiry or complaint to the Ombudsman;
- seek information relating to any specific inquiry or complaint made to the Ombudsman;
- make any representation relating to an inquiry or a complaint made to the Ombudsman; or
- act on any information received that reveals the identity of a complainant or any information described in paragraph (ii) or (iii) above.
- the Chair of the Board and/or Chair of the Committee may, in a manner that they deem appropriate, consider any concerns about the general complaint-handling process or the conduct of the Ombudsman; and
- the Chair of the Board and/or Chair of the NCGPPRC shall be provided with a copy of any complaint addressed to a director or to a member of the Board or a copy of any complaint that a complainant has requested be forwarded to, considered by or appealed to the Board. The Chair or their designate shall respond to the complainant on behalf of the Board and indicate the limits of the Board’s authority.
Annual Report and Other Publications
- The Ombudsman shall prepare and publicly disclose an annual report containing statistics, anonymized case studies of complaints for educational purposes, and other information of interest to the Board, Hydro One’s management, stakeholders and the general public.
- The Ombudsman may publish, from time to time, or make publically available, information about complaints, such as data relating to the number of complaints received, investigated or decided upon, in such a format that the identity or personal details of complainants will remain anonymous.
- The Ombudsman’s contact details, a copy of the Ombudsman’s mandate from the Board, these Terms of Reference, and a summary of the Ombudsman’s procedures will be posted on the Ombudsman’s website.
- Hydro One means Hydro One Inc. and all its subsidiaries, including third party contractors such as Inergi.
- Complainant includes customer, stakeholder, and any affected party or group who has dealings with Hydro One respecting its services.
- “Office” means the staff and Ombudsman who make up the Office of the Ombudsman.
- Informal resolution means the resolution of a complaint without a formal investigation using a variety of dispute resolution techniques, including but not limited to shuttle diplomacy, mediation, negotiation, facilitation and conciliation.
Approved on August 11, 2020.