Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 25 Mar 2020
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Miss X complains the Council insists all her communication with it is through a single point of contact. She says this causes unnecessary delays and is harassment. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint as it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome.
- Miss X complains the Council is victimising and harassing her by restricting her communication with it through a single point of contact.
- She wants the contact restrictions removed.
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’. 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 could add to any previous investigation by the Council
- it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
- We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered all the information provided by Miss X and the Council. Miss X commented on the draft version of this decision.
What I found
- Some years ago, the Council decided to put in place a single point of contact (SPOC) to manage all communication from Miss X.
- The Ombudsman previously considered a complaint from Miss X about the decision to appoint a SPOC.
- The previous decision says the Council is not at fault in providing a SPOC to manage her contact with it.
- The Council has explained its reasons for taking this course of action and has undertaken to review its decision every six months. It confirmed it reviewed the SPOC arrangement in February 2019 and again in October 2019.
- In the last review it confirms it has continued to receive a high number of complaints and concerns from Miss X. Most of these are about the maintenance of her Council owned flat, the behaviour of other tenants in her block and complaints about Council staff.
- The Council says it has investigated her assertion that the SPOC does not reply to her emails or forward them to the relevant people. It says the SPOC sent approximately 60 emails in 6 months in response to her queries and complaints.
- A senior officer is her designated SPOC. This officer coordinates the Council’s responses to ensure Miss X receives timely responses.
- When the designated SPOC is on leave Miss X is given alternative contact details in advance. She also has the SPOC mobile telephone number, so she can contact him in an emergency. If, in the event she cannot contact him the Council has confirmed she can contact the customer services department who will help in the event of an emergency.
- Having reviewed the arrangements, the Council decided to keep the SPOC arrangements in place until 31 March 2020, when it will review the matter.
- Miss X has provided many copies of emails to and from the Council which she says show how the issue is causing her unnecessary delay and stress. However, the emails I have seen show she has sent multiple emails on the same day with some sent late and night or in the early hours of the morning, demanding immediate response. While the Council may not be responding to her emails as fast as Miss X would like (which appears to be immediately), I have not seen any considerable delays in its replies.
- She also says the Council’s communication arrangements with her is a breach of her human rights. However, the Ombudsman’s remit does not extend to making decisions on whether a body in our jurisdiction has breached the Human Rights Act – this can only be done by the courts.
- I understand Miss X wants to be able to contact any relevant Council officer or department direct. She says the Council is using the arrangement as a way of stopping her from making complaints and requesting housing repairs. However, as the Ombudsman has previously advised, there is no fault in the Council choosing to manage her contact with it in a specific way. Also, the evidence she has provided shows that she has made requests for repairs and the Council has responded. I have not seen any evidence of fault in the way the Council has made the decision to communicate with Miss X through a SPOC. Without fault we cannot achieve a different outcome.
- I will not investigate this complaint. This is because it is unlikely we could add to any previous investigation by the Council. And, as the Council has reviewed her contact arrangements after 6 months as it said it would, it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman