St Helens Metropolitan Borough Council (15 016 849)

Category : Education > Other

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 03 Mar 2016

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint about the complainant’s treatment by a council officer. This is because she could not achieve a worthwhile outcome for the complainant.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I refer to here as Mrs C, says that a council officer was hostile to her, and excluded her from attending or participating in a training event involving carers and Special Educational Needs (SEN) staff. Also her complaint about the matter has not been investigated.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. She must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. She provides a free service, but must use public money carefully. She may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if she believes:
  • it is unlikely she would find fault, or
  • the fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained, or
  • it is unlikely she could add to any previous investigation by the Council. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6))

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information provided by Mrs C and by the Council. I also sent Mrs a draft decision for her comments.

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What I found

  1. Mrs C was a member of a Carers’ Group which met regularly with officers from the Council. When the Carers’ Group was invited to contribute their experiences to a training meeting for SEN staff, Mrs C expected to participate.
  2. However, at a meeting to discuss the upcoming event, Mrs C says that the lead officer for the Council was hostile to her and did not allow her to contribute properly. Following this meeting, Mrs C was told that she could not attend the training event.
  3. Mrs C complained about the officer’s behaviour towards her and about her exclusion from the event, both to the officer concerned, and then as a formal complaint to the Council.
  4. In an email response, the officer apologised for any unintended offence caused by his behaviour at the meeting. However, he said that Mrs C had not been “excluded” from a Carers’ Group event. He explained that the event in question was a training session for SEN staff and that he felt Mrs C’s contribution would not have been appropriate as she wished to talk about her complaint to governors regarding her son’s exclusion.
  5. Mrs C does not view her intended contribution in this way, and did not accept the officer’s explanation.
  6. Mrs C complained to the Council, but it did not investigate her complaint. The reason given was that the officer complained of had left the Council following a restructuring of roles. As the complaint was about his actions it was felt that investigation would not be possible.
  7. Mrs C is not satisfied with this response and has brought her complaint to the Ombudsman.
  8. However, we will not investigate the complaint. In the absence of the officer Mrs C complains of, investigation would be unable to establish effectively his reasons for the decisions he took, or to do anything about them.
  9. Additionally, the officer gave Mrs C an explanation for her non-inclusion in the training event. She may not accept it, but further investigation is unlikely to provide a different answer for the officer’s motivation.
  10. Further, the Ombudsman will not investigate unless there is fault causing injustice to the complainant. In this case, fault is disputed, but there is insufficient injustice to Mrs C to warrant an investigation.
  11. Mrs C’s final complaint is that the Council has refused to investigate the complaint. I do not regard this as fault as I do not believe an investigation would achieve anything further for her.

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Final decision

  1. I will not investigate this complaint as there is no worthwhile outcome an investigation could achieve.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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