London Borough of Hackney (17 006 431)

Category : Education > Other

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 21 Sep 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr J’s complaint for a community group about the Council’s consultation about education in the borough. There is not enough evidence of fault by the Council or of its actions leading to personal injustice to the complainants, so an investigation is not warranted.

The complaint

  1. Mr B complains the Council’s consultation about education in the borough was biased, which unfairly influenced the consultation result.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
  2. We cannot investigate something that affects all or most of the people in a council’s area. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(7), as amended)
  3. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone could take the matter to court. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to go to court. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), as amended)
  4. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’ which we call ‘fault’. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse effect on the person(s) making the complaint, which we call ‘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
  • the council’s actions have not caused injustice to those who complained.

(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered the information Mr B provided with his complaint and given him the opportunity to comment on a draft before issuing a final decision.

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What I found

  1. The Council carried out consultation about education in the borough in early 2017 and extended the final response date to 21 July 2017 because of the general election. It published a report on the result of the consultation in December 2017. Its consultation methods included:
    • A questionnaire which it invited all residents to complete
    • Focus group work
    • Engagement activities with groups in the borough.
  2. Mr B complains for a community group, and the matters he complains about might not affect all or most people in the Council’s area. But there is not enough evidence the consultation complained of has yet had any effect on individual citizens.
  3. The complaint is about words used in two statements in the questionnaire, with which residents could agree or disagree. There was a scale to show strength of feeling. Mr B says neither statement was neutral, and points out the Council said it intended to test previous public engagement findings, rather than start from a neutral base. Mr B contends that this makes the consultation unlawful.
  4. It is for the courts to decide on lawfulness. The Ombudsman considers administrative or procedural fault. It is not fault to ask residents to show their agreement or disagreement with a series of statements. If a respondent strongly disagreed with either statement, they could make this clear in their response.
  5. We would expect consultation to include various information-gathering methods, and to last a reasonable time, which this consultation did. Beyond that, neither the law nor government has set out what councils must do to consult effectively. So it is unlikely that we would find fault if we were to investigate. If Mr B wishes to challenge the lawfulness of the Council’s consultation, this is a matter for the courts.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr J’s complaint because there is not enough evidence of fault by the Council or of its actions leading to personal injustice to the complainants, so an investigation is not warranted.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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