Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 19 Jan 2018
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr B’s complaint about the way the Council responded when he complained about not receiving a postal ballot paper he had registered for and about the way senior officers treated him. We cannot consider the underlying matter of the ballot paper, and there is not enough evidence Mr B has suffered separate significant injustice from the way the Council handled his complaint to warrant investigation.
- The complainant, whom I shall call Mr B, is unhappy about the way the Council responded when he complained about not receiving a postal ballot paper he had registered for and about the way senior officers treated him. Mr B says the officers failed to return his calls, spoke to him rudely, put the phone down on him, and refused to arrange for him to meet with the Chief Executive.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’, which we call ‘fault’. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse effect on the person making the complaint, which we call ‘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:
- any injustice is not significant enough to justify our involvement, 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)
We cannot investigate a complaint where the body complained about is not responsible for the issue being raised. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(1), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered what Mr B said in his complaint and emails between him and the Council and the Ombudsman’s office, and discussed the matter with him by telephone.
What I found
- Mr B is clear he wants to complain to the Ombudsman about the way Council officers treated him, not about the fact he did not receive a postal ballot paper for the 2017 local elections.
- However, the Ombudsman cannot ignore the underlying matter which led to Mr B’s complaints. We will not investigate a council’s complaint handling if we cannot investigate the events which led to it, because the way a council deals with a complaint does not normally lead to significant enough injustice on its own to warrant separate investigation.
- We must first consider the responsibility to hold an election is not that of the Council. It is the personal responsibility of the Returning Officer, and includes sending out postal ballot papers to people registered for them as Mr B was. Though not relevant to the Ombudsman, it is also the case the Returning Officer need only send ballot papers by ordinary post, which is not guaranteed. (Representation of the People Act 1983)
- So, the matter causing Mr B’s complaint is not one the Ombudsman could investigate. From what Mr B has told us about his approaches to the Council to pursue his complaint, they are persistent, and disproportionate to the underlying matter. It would not be an effective and fair use of public money to expect the Council to continue to respond to them in the circumstances. The Ombudsman could not decide Mr B has suffered significant enough injustice to warrant investigating the Council’s complaint handling separately.
- The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr B’s complaint because we cannot consider the underlying matter of the ballot paper, and there is not enough evidence Mr B has suffered separate significant injustice from the way the Council handled his complaint to warrant investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman