The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr Y complains about the way Transport for London handled his report about injuries he sustained when travelling in a licensed taxi. We find the authority delayed in escalating some parts of Mr Y’s report and caused confusion when it corresponded with Mr Y. The Authority will pay £200 to Mr Y in recognition of the avoidable time and trouble caused by fault and undertake the service improvements listed at the end of this statement.
- The complainant, Mr Y, complains about Transport for London’s (TfL) handling of a report he made regarding the dangerous actions of a licensed taxi driver. Mr Y says he suffered significant injuries, mental trauma and financial loss as a result of the injury, and TfL’s poor handling of his case caused further avoidable distress.
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’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
- If we are satisfied with an authority’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)
How I considered this complaint
- During my investigation I discussed the complaint with Mr Y, and considered any information he submitted.
- I made enquiries of TfL and considered the information it provided.
- I issued a draft decision statement setting out my provisional view. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.
What I found
- On 15 January 2020 Mr Y sustained injuries when exiting a taxi licensed by TfL. Mr Y says the incident caused significant physical and mental trauma and he is currently receiving treatment for the long-term effects. Mr Y says TfL have failed to take his concerns seriously and delayed in passing his case for investigation.
- TfL received Mr Y’s initial report on 7 February 2020. Mr Y phoned again on 13 February to provide the name of the driver. TfL passed the report to its ‘Intelligence Team’ and emailed Mr Y on 27 February to confirm the following, “As you have provided us with the crime reference number, I have passed this onto our Intelligence team, who specialise in crime related offences… in order to make an insurance claim, your insurance company will need to contact our licensing support team. Once the team has been contacted, driver information can then be shared. I’ve included these details below for your convenience”.
- On 3 March 2020 Mr Y contacted TfL by email to say he intended to ask his legal representative to formally request the driver’s insurance details. However, TfL says it has no record of receiving any such request from Mr Y or his representative. TfL advised Mr Y on 8 April that “… as your case was referred to our Intelligence department to be treated accordingly with our policing partners, you would need to contact the police directly for an update”.
- Mr Y tells the Ombudsman he was told by TfL that it would provide the details, and not that he needed to request them. Nevertheless, Mr Y responded the following day to confirm the police had provided details of the driver’s insurance company, number plate and vehicle details.
- On 15 April Mr Y contacted TfL again to raise concerns about contact he had received from its licensing team, “… I keep on receiving emails from a [name removed] in licensing saying she cannot find any records of the case at all”.
- TfL says its Intelligence Team contacted the police on 17 April to provide details of the complaint and the crime reference number previously provided by Mr Y.
- Mr Y then received an email from TfL’s customer service team on 27 April which said, “… moreover, our intel partners are currently investigating your complaint but they’re experiencing issues to identify the driver involved in the incident”.
- This caused concern as Mr Y had been of the understanding that TfL’s intelligence team had all the necessary details and were investigating the incident. He pointed out that TfL had quoted several different reference numbers when corresponding with him, and he speculated whether this caused confusion amongst TfL’s internal records.
- When Mr Y raised concerns, TfL responded, “As your case is currently under investigation, this would be the reason for why Licensing would have no record of the case as of yet. With regards to why you have been contacted through different case reference numbers, as your original case [reference removed] was referred to Intelligence, your case was closed on our side… Each time you contact us, a new case is opened – which creates a new reference number”.
- On 1 May 2020 TfL apologised to Mr Y for miscommunication, the length of the investigation and the number of records held under his name. TfL then ‘linked’ all case references to prevent further confusion.
- TfL says it received confirmation on 12 November 2020 that the police intended to take no further action with a criminal investigation due to there being a lack of witnesses and CCTV footage to corroborate Mr Y’s allegation.
- Mr Y complained and subsequently approached the Ombudsman because he was dissatisfied with TfL’s handling of his case and the delays which he says this caused.
Was there fault in the Authority’s actions causing injustice to Mr Y?
- The substantive injustice claimed by Mr Y is the injuries and associated distress he experienced from the incident in January 2020. TfL points out that its licensed drivers hold ‘Hire and Reward’ insurance when carrying passengers. This insurance covers personal injury or accident claims. Therefore, whilst TfL is the licensing authority, it is not involved in the insurance of its drivers. I understand that Mr Y has made an insurance claim seeking damages arising from the incident. We have no jurisdiction to investigate private civil matters and so I have not considered the injustice Mr Y claims from this part of his complaint.
- Mr Y also had concerns about the licensing of the driver in question, and the risk he potentially presents to the wider public. In response to my enquiries, TfL confirmed, “We take all complaints seriously and we are conducting our own internal investigations into this allegation and appropriate licensing action will be considered”. As this internal investigation remains ongoing, I have not been able to reach any conclusions on this aspect of Mr Y’s complaint. Mr Y would be entitled to complain about this matter separately once the investigation has reached an outcome. However, due to data protection restrictions, Mr Y may not be entitled to receive full details of the outcome from TfL.
- During our investigation we have considered how TfL corresponded with Mr Y about the matter and whether any delays in that correspondence impacted on Mr Y’s ability to pursue his claim in a timely way.
- TfL has already apologised to Mr Y for its miscommunication and confusion caused by the multiple reference numbers. It has since explained to the Ombudsman that reference numbers are automatically generated each time its contact centre receives a new enquiry. Once Mr Y’s case was passed from customer services to the intelligence team, the case in customer services was closed because there was no further action for that team. However, if Mr Y subsequently contacted customer services, a new reference number generated.
- I agree this could cause confusion for customers. Whilst TfL may be unable to change the way its system generates reference numbers, I consider that TfL missed an opportunity to explain the process to Mr Y at an earlier stage. Had it done so, Mr Y would have been better informed about the roles of its intelligence and licensing teams and the way his case would be handled.
- The lack of communication meant that Mr Y experienced an avoidable level of confusion, frustration and time and trouble at an already difficult time. Mr Y made repeated contact because he was not sure whether the driver’s details had been passed to TfL’s intelligence team. The multiple reference numbers created unnecessary confusion and doubt about the handling of Mr Y’s case. I consider the complaint to TfL, and the Ombudsman, could have been avoided had TfL communicated more clearly with Mr Y.
- I have reviewed TfL’s case recordings. This shows that an officer discovered in late April that TfL’s customer service team did not pass the details of the driver to its intelligence team when Mr Y provided them on 13 February. TfL has explained to the Ombudsman that it was facing significant pressures during this time due to the change in working arrangements following the national COVID-19 lockdown.
- While I accept this would have created extra strain on the service, the ten-week delay in passing over the detail appears to be a result of oversight and human error as explained in the internal case notes, “advise the customer that I’ve looked back through the whole case again and saw there was an error on our side. As the driver’s details were called through by the customer at a later stage to the actual report, only the actual report was sent to Intel and the drivers’ details were over looked. However, all the information is now with Intel - who will be taking appropriate measures”.
- I am not persuaded the delay had an impact on Mr Y’s ability to pursue a timely insurance claim. This is because the police provided Mr Y with the necessary details on 9 April and this would have allowed Mr Y to progress his insurance claim, which is separate to the internal investigations undertaken by TfL. However, the oversight caused Mr Y additional time and trouble in pursuing and clarifying the matter, which TfL should remedy with the actions listed in the following section of this statement.
- Within four weeks of my final decision, TfL will provide evidence to the Ombudsman to show it has paid £200 to Mr Y in recognition of the time, trouble and frustration caused by the fault identified.
- Within six weeks of my final decision, TfL will provide evidence to the Ombudsman to show it has reminded staff in its customer service team about the importance of clearly communicating the escalation process with customers.
- We have completed our investigation with a finding of fault causing injustice for the reasons explained in this statement.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman