Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 20 Aug 2014
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs D says the Council failed put her daughter, Ms D, on the electoral register. As a result Ms D was unable to vote in the May 2014 elections. The Ombudsman has found evidence of fault. She has completed the investigation because the Council has agreed to pay Mrs D redress and improve its service.
- Mrs D says the Council failed to put her daughter on the electoral register for elections in May 2014. Mrs D complains her daughter lost her right to vote.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. If there has been fault, the Ombudsman considers whether it has caused an injustice and, if it has, she may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1))
- If the Ombudsman is satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, she can complete her investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30 (1B) and 34H(i))
How I considered this complaint
- I have considered the information provided by Mrs D. I have asked the Council questions and examined its response.
- I shared my provisional view with Mrs D and the Council.
What I found
- In autumn 2013 Mrs D received the household electoral registration form. She added her daughter’s details to it and posted it back to the Council. She says she received a second copy of the form and repeated the action.
- In April 2014 Mrs D received poll cards from the Council but Ms D did not receive one. On 29 April Mrs D called the Council, she thought she was speaking to Electoral Services but was actually dealing with the Customer Contact Team. An Officer said a registration form would be posted to her. The Officer failed to pass the request to Electoral Services and a form was not sent.
- On 7 May Mrs D contacted the Council again, this was one day after the statutory cut off point for registration and she was put through to Electoral Services. She was told the deadline had passed and the Council could not register Ms D. Mrs D asked to complain and spoke to three members of staff before she found on Officer who could advise her on the process. On 8 May the Head of Electoral Services replied to Mrs D’s complaint. She said the Council had not received the registration forms in 2013 and relied on Royal Mail to deliver them. She accepted an Officer failed to tell Mrs D about the 12 day deadline when she called in April 2014. She apologised that Mrs D’s daughter had not been given enough information to enable her to register. There had been difficulties getting information about calls taken by the Customer Contact Team where forms needed to be sent out and this had happened in Mrs D’s case. The Officer said she was arranging training for staff handling calls so they were clear on the process. She would also make sure Electoral Services staff was clear on complaints procedures. Mrs D emailed the Council the same day and said she was not satisfied with the explanation. She wanted to know who was to blame and expected the Head of Electoral services to resign. On 13 May the Deputy Director of Customer Care responded to Mrs D’s complaint. He offered his profuse apologises and accepted the Council was at fault in 2014. He would review processes to ensure the errors did not happen again.
What should have happened
- Each autumn the Council sends out household electoral registration forms to residents. Residents are asked to complete the form stating who in the property is eligible to vote. There is a section on the form for people who are 17 years old. Residents post the form back to the Council in a pre-paid envelope. When the Council receives the forms it processes the data and updates its electoral register. It includes residents who will be 18 years old by polling day. At election time the Council sends out poll cards to eligible electors.
- The statutory deadline for Council’s registering electors is 12 working days prior to polling day.
- How the Council handles a resident’s call about an electoral register query depends on when it is received. Electoral Services deal with calls up to six weeks before polling day. It also has an automated service available for people who are confirming their register details remain unchanged. From Six weeks before polling to twelve working days before the date of the election calls are handled by the Customer Contact Team. After that calls revert back to Electoral Services.
- If a resident calls prior to the 12 day deadline and says they have not received a poll card a Customer Contact Team Officer (Officer) should check the electoral register. If the resident has not been registered the Officer should offer to either post or email a registration form. The Officer should also tell the caller a form can be downloaded from the Electoral Commission website. In addition the Officer should inform the resident about the statutory deadline and that a form can be hand delivered back to the Council. If the resident calls with the query after the 12 day deadline the Council will advise it is too late to register.
Was there fault by the Council
- Mrs D says she returned two registration forms in 2013. The Council has no record of receiving the forms. I appreciate Mrs D disputes this but there is no evidence of fault by the Council on this point. I cannot say why the documents were not received by the Council but it is not at fault because it could not take action until it had the forms to process.
- When Mrs D contacted the Council on 29 April 2014 an Officer said a registration form would be sent out. The Officer failed to pass that request by email to Electoral Services. As a result the form was never posted to Mrs D. The Council accepts this error. It would have been helpful for the Officer to tell Mrs D she was speaking to the Customer Contact Team and explain the process for getting a form sent out. The Officer also failed to inform Mrs D about the statutory deadline for registration. It is highly likely the Officer also failed to tell Mrs D the form could be emailed to her or obtained via download from another website. Those failures are unacceptable.
- Mrs D also complains about the handling of her complaint by Electoral Services. The Head of Electoral Services has accepted her staff should be clearer on complaints procedures. This supports Mrs D’s claim that she had to speak to three Officers before finding someone who knew how to deal with her complaint. Again, that is not a good level of service.
Did the fault cause an injustice
- The Council’s failings meant Mrs D did not get a registration form in time. I have no doubt that had the Council fully informed her in April she would have asked for an email copy registration form or picked it up herself to make sure the 12 working day cut off point was met. The faults identified meant Ms D lost an opportunity to vote in the May 2014 elections.
- The Council has already apologised to Mrs D for its errors. I also noted in its complaint responses it undertook to carry out various actions. The Council has confirmed to me it has taken action on the following points:
- Training for Customer Contact Team Officers handling calls about Electoral Services;
- Clarifying complaints procedures for Electoral Services Officers;
- The Deputy Director of Customer Care reviewing processes to prevent future reoccurrence of the errors.
- There is evidence of fault by the Council. I have completed the investigation because the Council agrees to take action.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman