Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 13 Mar 2020
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Miss B complains about the Council’s handling of her electoral registration form, which she says delayed her being added to the electoral register. Miss B says an officer was rude to her and the Council failed to make the reasonable adjustments she asked for. The Ombudsman finds some fault by the Council because it did not enter Miss B’s information correctly, but the action it has already taken puts right the injustice Miss B suffered. The Ombudsman finds the Council is not at fault over the other matters which he has investigated.
- The complainant, who I will refer to as Miss B, complains about several matters which started when the Council asked her to complete a form to join the electoral register. Miss B is disabled and dyslexic. Miss B complains:
- the Council recorded her National Insurance number incorrectly and delayed identifying its error, which meant the Council asked her to complete the form again and delayed her joining the electoral register by around eight months.
- the Council added her to the open electoral register even though she specifically asked not to be on the open electoral register.
- a Council officer was unhelpful and condescending during phone calls with her.
- the Council delayed responding to her subject access request in which she asked to see the electoral registration documents.
- the Council did not make reasonable adjustments to help her correspond with the Council and wrongly said she could not make her subject access request by telephone.
What I have investigated
- I have investigated all Miss B’s complaints apart from her complaint about the Council’s delay responding to her subject access request. I will address this complaint in the ‘Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate’ section at the end of this statement.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), 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)
- We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe there is another body better placed to consider this complaint. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I have considered Miss B’s complaint and the supporting information she sent. I have discussed the complaint with Miss B. I have also made enquiries to the Council and have considered the information provided by the Council in response. I sent a copy of my draft view to the Council and Miss B and have considered their responses.
What I found
- The Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 changed the law on electoral registration. It introduced individual electoral registration, where each individual in a household is responsible for their own voter registration. As part of the registration process individuals must provide their National Insurance Number (NINO) and date of birth so the council can verify their identity.
- There are two versions of the electoral register. One is the full version, which includes all voters and is legally available for supervised inspection by anyone. The other is the open register, which can be purchased for any purpose. Voters can opt out of being on the open register.
- In October 2019 the Council sent Miss B a Household Enquiry Form, asking for details of those who lived at her address. Miss B completed the form, showing her as the only resident, and returned it to the Council. I have seen a copy of this form.
- Having received Miss B’s Household Enquiry Form the Council, on 13 November 2018, sent her an Invitation to Register form.
- On 19 November Miss B called the Council and spoke to Officer A. I have listened to Miss B’s recording of the phone call. In summary Miss B said she wanted to know why the Council had lost the history of her being at her address. The Council Officer said that was what they were investigating. Miss B said she did not want to be on the Open Register. She said she had made a verbal information request and the Council had 21 days to reply to this. She also said the Council has a record of not providing her with reasonable adjustments.
- The Council received Miss B’s written subject access request on 22 November and write to her on 29 November asking for proof of her identity so it could process the request. In response Miss B says told the Council it needed to make reasonable adjustments to get the information it needed. She says she told the Council it had information from the Department for Work and Pensions because she had been issued with a blue badge.
- The Council had no record of Miss B returning the Invitation to Register form so, on 18 March, sent a reminder to her. Miss B returned the Invitation to Register form, including her NINO, which the Council received in 11 April 2019.
- When the Council entered Miss B’s NINO it, in error, entered this incorrectly. So it wrote to Miss B on 15 April asking for documentary evidence of her identity.
- The next day Miss B called the Council and spoke to Officer A. The officer corrected the error in the NINO. Miss B said she wanted to make a complaint about the error and wanted an assurance that she could vote at the next election. The same day Miss B sent the Council a letter of complaint, including a complaint about how the officer spoke to her. Miss B says Officer A was unhelpful and condescending. Miss B considered she had been treated differently because she is disabled and dyslexic.
- I have listened to a recording of part of a call Miss B made to Officer A on the afternoon of 16 April; the recording cuts out a couple minutes into the call.
- The Council sent its stage one complaint response on 2 May, confirming Miss B was registered to vote. Miss B was not satisfied with this and complained again. The Council sent its stage two response on 14 May.
- The Council said the NINO date entry error was entirely the Council’s mistake and apologised for this. The Council said Officer A said she was not rude to Miss B, but the Council would be happy to consider Miss B’s recordings of these conversations.
- Miss B says she did not send her recordings to the Council because she does not know how to do this and her disability means she cannot sit at a desk trying to work out how to send the recordings to the Council. Miss B says the Council’s apology is not enough because she wants an apology from Officer A.
- The Council replied to Miss B’s subject access request on 16 May 2019. Miss B has complained to the Information Commissioner about the Council’s handling of her subject access request.
- In August Miss B received a letter from her MP which indicated it had been sent to new residents or people recently added to the electoral register. Miss B says this shows the Council put her on the open register against her wishes.
- In response to our enquires the Council said:
- Miss B indicated clearly on both her Household Enquiry Form and Invitation to Register Form that she did not want to be included on the open register. Accordingly, Miss B has not been included on the open register. This is clear on the copy of the Household Enquiry Form which I have seen.
- Officer A was confident she was neither unhelpful nor condescending.
- Although Miss B stated in her letter of 16 April that she "will seek Councillor and MP assistance under the Equalities Act", it was not clear from this statement that Miss B had a disability for which reasonable adjustments would need to be made.
- I will now address each of Miss B’s complaints in turn.
The Council recorded her National Insurance number incorrectly and delayed identifying its error, which meant the Council asked her to complete the form again and delayed her joining the electoral register by around eight months
- The Council received Miss B’s Household Enquiry Form in November 2018. But this was not the actual registration form. The Council says it sent Invitation to Register on 13 November 2018, and a reminder on 18 March 2019. It is clear the Council did not receive Miss B’s Invitation to Register form until 11 April 2019. I cannot say this delay was due to the fault of the Council.
- The Council did enter Miss B’s NINO incorrectly, was fault. Miss B was put to the injustice of having to contact the Council to get the error corrected. The Council corrected the within a week of making it, when it heard from Miss B, and she was entered on the electoral register. The Council has apologised for this, which is a suitable remedy for the injustice caused.
The Council added her to the open electoral register even though she specifically asked not to be on the open electoral register
- I can understand why Miss B was concerned the Council had put her on the open electoral register because of the letter she received from her MP. The Council has confirmed that Miss B has not been on the open register, so it is not at fault.
A Council officer was unhelpful and condescending during phone calls with her
- I have listened to recording of two of Miss B’s recordings of her conversations with Officer A. I do not consider what I have heard shows Officer A was unhelpful or condescending.
The Council did not make reasonable adjustments to help her correspond with the Council and wrongly said she could not make her subject access request by telephone
- When Miss B spoke to Officer A in November she said she needed reasonable adjustments, but did not suggest what they might be. Officer A did not refuse to accept the Miss B’s Subject Access Request by phone. Even if she had Miss B sent the Council a written request which it received on 19 November 2018..
- There is no other record I have seen or heard of Miss B asking Electoral Services for reasonable adjustments to help her correspond with it over the electoral registration issue. So I do not find the Council was at fault.
- My decision is the Council was not at fault for most of the matters complained about. It was at fault in incorrectly inputting Miss B’s NINO, but has already admitted this and put right the injustice suffered by Miss B. So I have completed my investigation.
Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate
- I have not investigated Miss B’s complaint about the Council’s delay responding to her subject access request. This is because Miss B has complained to the Information Commissioner’s office, which is in the best position to consider this complaint.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman