Personal Ombud Programme – Sweden

In 1995, the Swedish Personal Ombudsman Programme (‘Personligt Ombud Skåne’ or ‘PO’) was founded by persons with psychosocial disabilities as a ‘User-controlled Service with Personal Agents’ (Submission 27). This form of personal assistance involves facilitating decision-making, including by making demands of public authorities and social services about the support to which the individual is entitled. The 'assistants' or 'advocates' are statutorily appointed to assist a person to make legal decisions in a facilitative rather than coercive fashion. The PO is a professional, highly skilled person, usually a lawyer or social worker who works only for his/her client and does not work in alliance with psychiatric or social services or any other authority, nor with the client’s relatives or any other person (Submission 27). The Ombudsman takes great care and time to build trust and to ensure that users receive the help and services which they prefer and to which they are entitled. The practice is not designed for one specific situation (such as hospitalisation, homelessness or acute crises) but instead is meant as a service to accompany a person throughout her/his psychosocial difficulties.

In 2000, the PO system was expanded to include the whole country (Submission 27). Although there are no empirical studies yet available concerning its impact on coercion, a five-year Government evaluation of the programme has shown that the scheme is profitable in socioeconomic terms; individuals with PO support require less care and their psychosocial situation improves. Since then, the National Board of Health and Welfare promoted the PO as a ‘new social profession’ and in 2013 a new regulation established permanent funding for the PO system (Submission 27). A PO holds an independent position in a municipality's social services. Municipalities may run the PO service or sub-contract them to non-governmental organisations. The system emerged after advocates felt that existing legal capacity systems – such as guardianship, or civil commitment – did not meet the needs of many people with psychosocial disabilities.

The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Nils Muižnieks, reported that in 2013 a new regulation established permanent funding for the PO system in the regular welfare system (Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare, 2008). As of 2014, according to Muižnieks, 310 POs provided support to more than 6,000 individuals and 245 municipalities (84 % of all municipalities in Sweden) included POs in their social service system. The OHCHR recommend the 'PO Skåne' programme - an iteration of the PO programme run by persons with psychosocial disabilities - as an appropriate supported decision-making statutory mechanism. Muižnieks writes that 'recourse to the Personal Ombudsmen system could be a way of limiting coercive practice in psychiatric institutions' (Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare, 2008). As such, the system has received attention internationally and given rise to similar services in other countries.