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Northampton Borough Council (19 006 047)

Category : Environment and regulation > Licensing

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 02 Jan 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms B complained the Council failed to investigate her concerns about the actions of a taxi driver or respond to her complaint. The Council properly investigated the concerns but did not tell Ms B the outcome. That led Ms B to believe the Council had not taken her concerns seriously. An apology to Ms B and changes to the Council’s procedure is satisfactory remedy for the injustice caused.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Ms B, complained the Council failed to investigate her concerns about the actions of the taxi driver or respond to her complaint.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. The Ombudsman cannot question whether a Council’s decision is right or wrong simply because Ms B disagrees with it. He must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1), 26A(1), as amended and section 34(3))
  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. As part of the investigation, I have:
    • considered the complaint and Ms B's comments;
    • made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided;
    • gave Ms B and the Council an opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

Background

  1. On 16 April 2019 Ms B reported an issue with a taxi she took on 12 April. Ms B complained of the taxi driver having clothing obscuring his face, driving at speed, refusing to provide his taxi licence number, acting aggressively and driving off when she was still partly inside the taxi. Ms B told the Council she had complained to the taxi company on the same day. Ms B said she had not contacted the police.
  2. Ms B chased the Council for a response on 30 April. The Council apologised for the delay and asked for further details of the driver. The Council told Ms B it would invite the driver for a formal interview.
  3. Ms B provided details of the taxi she had taken and the Council told her its enforcement team would investigate and keep her up-to-date with the progress of the investigation.
  4. The Council contacted the taxi company on 2 May. The taxi company provided the Council with details of the driver. The taxi company told the Council the driver had complained to the office shortly after completing the journey on 12 April about the complainant’s behaviour.
  5. The Council wrote to the taxi driver on 7 May, inviting him for interview. That interview took place on 20 May. During that interview the taxi driver maintained his allegations about Ms B. The Council decided as there were two versions of events it could not substantiate the allegations. The Council recorded the incident on the driver’s record. The Council did not write to Ms B to tell her the outcome.

Analysis

  1. Ms B says the Council failed to investigate her concerns about the actions of a taxi driver or respond to her complaint. I am satisfied the Council investigated Ms B’s concerns. I say that because I am satisfied the Council contacted the taxi company and then invited the taxi driver in for interview. It is clear from the documentary records the taxi driver made a counter allegation about Ms B. The Council decided in those circumstances it did not have evidence to substantiate whose version of events was accurate. I cannot criticise the Council for reaching that decision given both Ms B and the taxi driver reported concerns about the behaviour of the other shortly after the journey complained of. However, I would have expected the Council to write to Ms B to explain what it had done and why it had decided it could not take further action. Failure to do that is fault.
  2. I consider part of the problem here is the Council does not have a licensing enforcement policy and therefore has no clear guidance to officers about what should happen when a complaint is received. I welcome that the Council is now working on a licensing enforcement policy. I recommended either the licensing enforcement policy or the taxi and private hire customer complaints guide should make clear a formal response should be made to those complaining, outlining the conclusions the Council has reached on a complaint. I consider that, plus an apology to Ms B for not properly informing her of the outcome of its investigation, satisfactory remedy for the injustice caused. The Council has agreed to my recommendations.

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Agreed action

  1. Within one month of my decision the Council should apologise to Ms B for not writing to her formally to tell her the outcome of its investigation.
  2. As part of its consideration of a licensing enforcement policy the Council should ensure either the policy or its taxi and private hire customer complaints guide makes clear the need to write to those who have complained to tell them about the outcome of any investigation.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation and uphold the complaint.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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