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Suffolk County Council (20 008 355)

Category : Other Categories > Commercial and contracts

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 14 Jan 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not investigate Mr X’s complaint about the Council’s threat of legal action against his company. This is because the courts are better placed to deal with the issues Mr X has raised.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, Mr X, complains the Council wrongly threatened him with legal action for his company’s unauthorised use of its logo and documentation. He also complains the Council contacted clients and potential clients and told them they could not use his company’s product.

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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
  • 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, or
  • there is another body better placed to consider this complaint.

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

  1. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone could take the matter to court. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to go to court. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I reviewed Mr X’s complaint and the Council’s response. I shared my draft decision with Mr X and considered his comments.

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What I found

  1. In 2019 the Council became aware Mr X’s company was using documentation it produced and which bore its logo in a product offered to clients within the Council’s area.
  2. The Council wrote to Mr X stating he did not have permission to use the documentation and that by doing so it gave the impression the Council supported or endorsed the product, which it did not. It therefore asked Mr X to remove its logo from their materials and not to use their documentation for its products. It explained that if he did not comply with the request, the Council would consider taking further steps to protect its position.
  3. Mr X believes the Council was wrong to threaten action against him and says the Council has forbidden all clients and potential clients in its area from using his company’s product. He also complains it has added a message to its website prohibiting the use of his product as part of a wider ban.
  4. If Mr X wishes the challenge the Council regarding the use of its documentation the courts are better placed to deal with the issue. It is not for us to determine legal disputes or to say the Council had no right in law to seek to limit the use of its documentation. We also cannot determine if the Council is liable for damages to Mr X’s business; this is because the issue largely hinges on the dispute over Mr X’s use of the Council’s documentation. If Mr X wishes to pursue this it would be reasonable for him to take the matter to court.
  5. While Mr X is not happy with the Council’s decision to limit the use of third party products with its website it is unlikely we would say this was fault. The Council has taken the decision to ensure the security of its website and protection of data and it is not for us to say it must reverse its decision.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate this complaint. This is because the courts are better placed to deal with the issues raised.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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