Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council (16 010 052)

Category : Environment and regulation > Health and safety

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 30 May 2017

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: There was no fault in the Council’s investigation of a trading standards complaint. There was a delay in referring the complaint, but this was not the fault of the Council.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr S, complains that investigation of a complaint by trading standards was slow and inadequate.
  2. He complains the Council did not find out what a powder was that came out of a mattress sample in a bed store.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by maladministration and service failure. I have used the word fault to refer to these. 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)
  2. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I read the papers submitted by Mr S and discussed the complaint with him.
  2. I considered the Council’s comments about the complaint and the supporting documents it provided.
  3. I gave the Council and Mr S the opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. Mr S says that when he visited a bed shop in January 2016 some powder came out of a foam mattress sample. He says that he developed a cough and swelling to his face. Mr S says that he went to the doctors the next day and the doctor gave him antihistamines. Mr S says he went to the bed shop within 2 days to try to find out what the powder was but the sample was no longer available.
  2. Mr S contacted the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) on 22 February 2016. The Council says the CAB wrongly referred the complaint to Lancashire Country Council trading standards. The CAB also notified Sefton Council that Mr S had made a complaint. Mr S says that CAB correctly referred him to Sefton Council and that it was Sefton Council that referred him to the wrong Council.
  3. Mr S contacted the CAB again on 15 March and the CAB correctly referred the complaint to Sefton Council.
  4. Mr S contacted Sefton Council directly on 16 March 2016. At first Officer X, a trading standards officer, advised the matter was sent to Lancashire County Council but Officer X then told Mr S he would visit the store.
  5. Officer X visited the store on 22 March 2016. The store manager said he had contacted the manufacturer who said no powder came out and sent another sample. Officer X called Mr S on 24 March to give him the details of the manufacturer. He asked Mr S to contact him if the matter was not sorted after two weeks and Officer X says Mr S did not contact him again.
  6. Mr S says that he telephoned several times over the summer and copied Officer X into correspondence with the manufacturer and bed company. The Council has no record of this. Mr S made an official complaint in October 2016 and the Council replied to this in December 2016.

My analysis

  1. Mr S’s initial complaint was wrongly referred to another Council by the CAB. The Ombudsman has no power to investigate the CAB so Mr S will need to complain to the CAB if he wants to take this matter further.
  2. When the Council received the complaint, it visited the bed company within a week and told Mr S of the result. There was initial confusion when Mr S phoned the Council but it quickly corrected it. I can find no evidence of fault in the Council’s administration of complaint.
  3. The Council told Mr S of the manufacturer but could do nothing more as the sample had been destroyed. Mr S complains the Council has not found out what the powder was.
  4. Mr S first made his complaint to the CAB after the sample had been destroyed so I cannot see what more the Council could do but pass on details of the manufacturer. Even if the complaint had been referred correctly to the Council by the CAB in February 2016, this was a month after the sample had been destroyed and so I do not consider the outcome would have altered. I do understand Mr S’s concern, but sadly, I cannot see what the Council could have done in this situation other than the action it has taken.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation as I have found no evidence of fault by the Council. This complaint is not upheld.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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