Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 25 Mar 2021
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: We will not investigate this complaint about the Council referring an allegation against Mr T to the Office of the Public Guardian. There is not enough evidence of fault by the Council to warrant an Ombudsman investigation.
- The complainant, who I shall refer to as Mr T, complains the Council:
- referred a malicious allegation against him to the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG);
- took two years to make the referral which Mr T says is unreasonable;
- has not provided him with details he has requested;
- has not responded to his stage 2 complaint.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe:
- it is unlikely we would find fault, or
- there is another body better placed to consider issues in the complaint, or
- we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants.
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
- The Information Commissioner's Office considers complaints about freedom of information. Its decision notices may be appealed to the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights). So where we receive complaints about freedom of information, we normally consider it reasonable to expect the person to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner.
- We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I read the complaint and the Council’s responses. I invited Mr T to comment on the draft decision.
What I found
- Mr T says the Council referred an allegation of theft against him to the OPG, which it should not have done, as it was clearly malicious. The alleged theft was against his mother, who Mr T has lasting power of attorney for. He says the Council took two years to make the referral, which was unreasonable and shows the Council knew the allegation was malicious.
- The Council said it received an allegation through a safeguarding referral and began an investigation. Mr T was unaware of this and enquiries were taking place with his mother’s knowledge. It had further concerns about Mr T helping his mother, as her debts were beginning to increase. The Council decided to refer the case to the OPG. The Council said the OPG found that Mr T was acting in his mother’s best interests, and has confirmed the OPGs decision is reflected in the case record.
- Mr T only became aware of the allegation when he was contacted by the OPG.
- The Council has a duty to investigate such reports. The Council’s investigation took two years before a referral was made to the OPG, but the Council says it needed to ensure it had considered all concerns received. Mr T was unaware the enquiry was taking place so was not caused an injustice by the amount of time it took. The OPG found no evidence of financial abuse and the Council has updated its record to reflect this. We cannot question a Council’s decision where it has followed the correct process.
- Mr T says the Council has not provided him details he requested. He wants to know the names of those who made the allegation and were involved in the decision making, and what disciplinary action has been taken against them. Mr T would also like copies of some documents.
- The Council told Mr T the allegation came from someone who does not work for the Council. It has referred him to the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) if he has a complaint about the information he has received.
- We cannot obtain and provide the information Mr T wants. If he has a complaint about the information he has been provided by the Council, this can be directed to the ICO.
- Mr T says the Council has not responded to his stage 2 complaint.
- The Council says it agreed with Mr T to have a meeting to discuss his concerns at stage 2. It says Mr T agreed to the meeting but has then ignored its requests on three occasions for a meeting date.
- Where we are not investigating the substantive matters, we will not usually consider how the Council responded to a complaint about them. The Council says it attempted to meet with Mr T to discuss his concerns and it is unlikely we would find fault with this approach.
- We will not investigate this complaint. This is because there is not enough evidence of fault with the Council’s decision to investigate an allegation it received about Mr T. We cannot question the Council’s decision when it has followed the correct process. Complaints about information provided should be directed to the ICO. We cannot provide Mr T with the details he has requested. Where we are not investigating the substantive matters, we will not normally consider how the Council has responded to a complaint. That is the case here.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman