Decision : Not upheld
Decision date : 20 Jan 2020
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complained the Council did not investigate allegations against his company in a fair and professional manner. There is no fault in the way the Council carried out its investigation and we have closed Mr X’s complaint.
- Mr X complained the Council did not investigate allegations against his company in a fair and professional manner.
- This resulted in the Council terminating Mr X’s Buy with Confidence membership.
- Mr X said the process has caused him a great deal of stress.
- Mr X understands the Ombudsman cannot overturn the Council’s decision to terminate his BWC membership. He would like the Council to carry out another investigation and take on board all the information Mr X had submitted.
- Mr X would like an external audit of the services Buy with Confidence and Trading Standards provide to take place.
What I have investigated
- I have investigated the way the Council investigated the allegations about Mr X.
- Paragraph 25 states the parts of the complaint I have not investigated.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I have considered Mr X’s complaint and supporting information.
- I have also considered the Council’s response to Mr X.
- I have written to Mr X and the Council with my draft decision and considered their comments.
What I found
- Trading Standards are the Local Authority departments that enforce consumer protection legislation. If a person thinks a business has broken the law or acted unfairly, they can report them to Trading Standards. Trading Standards use the information given to them to investigate unfair trading and illegal business trading.
Buy with Confidence
- A partnership of Local Authority Trading Standards Services set up the Buy with Confidence Scheme. The scheme provides consumers with a list of local businesses which have given their commitment to trading fairly. Every business listed has undergone a series of detailed checks before being approved as a member of the scheme. When businesses join the Scheme, they must agree to abide by the scheme’s code of conduct. In the unlikely event that concerns are raised about a member the relevant Council will take appropriate action and if necessary, will remove them from the scheme.
- Mr X’s company specialises in installing stoves and fireplaces, and lining chimneys and flues. In October 2018, Mr X’s company lined the chimney in Mr Y’s home. In November, Mr Y complained about Mr X’s company to Trading Standards at the Council. He said Mr X had signed off the work without visiting the site or carrying out any tests. The chimney was left only partially lined, in an unsafe condition. He said Mr X would not accept fault and had only offered to ‘patch up’ the work using invasive techniques.
- The Council began its investigation of Mr Y’s complaint in November 2018. The Council spoke to Mr X about the issues raised against him. In December, the Council visited Mr X and requested specific information from him.
- In January 2019, the Council wrote to Mr X stating it was suspending his Buy with Confidence membership as he had not sent the information it had requested. Mr X contacted the Council and explained he had sent the information. The Council checked and realised that the email had been rejected due to its size and the system had not alerted anyone. The Council apologised and asked Mr X to send through the information again.
- The Council carried out a review of Mr X’s company’s Buy with Confidence membership. This reviewed Mr X’s compliance with the Buy with Confidence scheme terms and conditions. At each stage of its investigation, the Council referred to the terms and conditions when establishing whether Mr X had breached them.
- During the course of its investigation, the Council asked Mr X to clarify his compliance with the Buy with Confidence scheme. In response to this, Mr X submitted further evidence.
- The Council considered this evidence and reached a decision to terminate Mr X’s Buy with Confidence membership. The Council sent Mr X a detailed letter setting out the outcomes of its investigation, and the reasons for its decision.
- Mr X responded to the Council. He raised issues that he considered the Council should have addressed in its investigation. This included the Council’s failure to produce evidence to support Mr Y’s claims. He said the Council only gathered information from Mr Y and failed to consider the evidence Mr X supplied on behalf of his company.
- The Council responded to Mr X. It said it considered all the evidence produced from both parties and had responded to Mr X’s points.
- The Council carried out a thorough investigation in response to Mr Y’s complaint about Mr X’s company. This was in line with the law and the Buy with Confidence scheme terms and conditions. The Council considered information from both parties and Mr X was given the opportunity to clarify issues before the Council made its final decision.
- I have closed Mr X’s complaint. The Council was not at fault.
Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate
- I have not investigated the allegations against Mr X’s company.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman