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Bath and North East Somerset Council (19 017 080)

Category : Environment and regulation > Trading standards

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 28 Feb 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr B complains about the Council’s decision to treat him as a vexatious complainant. The Ombudsman will not investigate the complaint because there is no evidence of fault by the Council or injustice caused to Mr B sufficient to warrant an investigation.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I refer to as Mr B, says the Council failed to follow its own policies when it decided to treat him as a persistent and vexatious complainant. He says he has spent much time pursuing matters and that he wants justice for his son.

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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’. 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 fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained, or
  • the injustice is not significant enough to justify our involvement, or
  • it is unlikely we could add to any previous investigation by the Council, or
  • it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome, or
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants.

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

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How I considered this complaint

  1. In considering the complaint I reviewed the information provided by Mr B and the Council. I gave Mr B the opportunity to comment on my draft decision and considered what he said.

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What I found

  1. Some time ago a dispute arose between builders and Mr B’s son involving works undertaken by the builders at his son’s property. On behalf of his son, Mr B complained about the dispute mediation carried out between the two parties by the Council’s Trading Standards Service.
  2. On behalf of his son, Mr B made a complaint to the Ombudsman about this matter in 2017 and although we identified procedural fault and recommended improvements, along with an apology for Mr B’s son, no significant injustice from the Council fault was identified.
  3. Over the next two years Mr B continued to make regular contact with the Council about the same or related matters, making complaints, seeking the reopening of past investigations and making FOI requests. Despite the Council warning him that it would give consideration as to whether his actions amounted to those of a vexatious complainant, Mr B continued to contact the Council.
  4. In December 2019 the Council wrote to Mr B to advise him that it was planning to treat him as a vexatious complainant. It gave him the opportunity to respond before it made its final decision and considered the representations he made. However, it concluded it would treat him as vexatious and that it would not respond to any further contact from him for 12 months. It took into account the fact that Mr B does not live in the Council’s area and does not directly receive services from it.
  5. Dissatisfied with the Council’s decision, Mr B complained to the Ombudsman.

Assessment

  1. Matters previously covered by Mr B’s son’s earlier complaint to the Ombudsman in 2017 will not be revisited.
  2. Due to Mr B’s actions, the Council warned him of the possible consequences and invited his representations before it made its final decision to treat him as vexatious for 12 months. I understand Mr B is upset with this decision but it is not our role to review the merits of it and I have seen no evidence there was fault by the Council in how it dealt with this matter.
  3. Moreover, it cannot be said Mr B has suffered any significant personal injustice and it has been his decision to expend time and trouble pursuing issues which have not directly involved him.
  4. In responding to my draft decision, Mr B says the Council has introduced issues from his son’s 2017 complaint as a red herring to devalue the validity and significance of later complaints he made and so allow it to treat him as vexatious. However, it is clear that Mr B’s communication from 2017 has been linked to his son’s previous case and this is highlighted by the outcome he said he wanted for his son in this current complaint to the Ombudsman.
  5. Mr B also says it is misleading of the Council to say he does not use their services. However, the Council said he did not directly receive services from it and it is the case that he lives outside the Council area. That he might directly receive services at some point in the future does not change my view of his complaint.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because there is no evidence of fault by the Council or injustice caused to Mr B sufficient to warrant an investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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