Hertfordshire County Council (20 012 722)

Category : Other Categories > Other

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 31 Mar 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms X complains about the way she was treated when she went to register the birth of her child. We will not investigate the complaint because it is unlikely we can add to the investigation already carried out by the Council and an investigation is unlikely to lead to a different result.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I call Ms X, complains about what happened at Council offices when she went to register the birth of her child. She says its running system meant she had to wait longer than she should have and that she was shouted at and made to feel small by a member of staff. Ms X says the incident has affected her mental health and she wants a written apology, for the member of staff to be disciplined and for no-one else to be treated as she was.

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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 affected 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, or
  • it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  1. The Information Commissioner's Office considers complaints about freedom of information. We normally expect someone to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner if they have a complaint about data protection or freedom of information.

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How I considered this complaint

  1. In considering the complaint I spoke to Ms X and considered the information she and the Council provided.

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What I found

  1. Having recently given birth, Ms X went to the Council office to register the birth of her child. The Council’s system for dealing with those attending the office had been changed to take into account the Covid pandemic.
  2. As a result of these changes, and because of a mix up in with dealing with Ms X when her turn to register the birth came up, Ms X had to wait longer than she should have. Ms X also says a member of staff, who I call Mr Z, shouted at her, accused her of not reading the information she had been given and made her feel small.
  3. Upset by her visit to the office, and how it had affected her mental health, Ms X made a formal complaint to the Council. It considered the complaint under its complaints procedure and interviewed the members of staff involved and the member of the public who Ms X said had witnessed what had taken place.
  4. The Council agreed Ms X had been wrongly told about the birth registration process by the midwife and that the system it had had in place had resulted in her waiting longer for her turn than she should have done. It apologised for this.
  5. However, it told Ms X it could not uphold the part of her complaint made about Mr Z’s unacceptable behaviour because it had found no evidence to support it. It told Ms X it had spoken to the member of the public she said had witnessed the behaviour but that this person said they had not witnessed unacceptable behaviour or shouting.
  6. The Council told Ms X it would be speaking to its staff to remind them of the importance of accurate information for members of the public and that it had now installed an intercom system for use during the pandemic. It also said the issues highlighted by her case would be used in on-going training and development plans to improve its service.
  7. Dissatisfied with the Council’s response, Ms X complained to us.


  1. It is clear Ms X found her visit to the Council office distressing and that it has negatively affected her. The Council investigated her complaint, but it found no evidence to support her claims about Mr Z’s unacceptable behaviour, despite speaking to the third-party witness who Ms X said had seen what had taken place. As there is no evidence, the Council told her it cannot take any further action in relation to this matter. Even if we were to investigate, I do not consider we would be likely to add to the investigation the Council has already carried out.
  2. The Council apologised in writing to Ms X for the fault it identified, and it told her of the steps it is taking to improve its service. Again, even if we were to investigate, it is unlikely our investigation would lead to a different result.
  3. Ms X said she wants a copy of the information provided by the witness but that she has yet to receive a response from the Council to her request for it. If Ms X wishes to take this matter further, she can contact the Information Commissioner’s Office which considers cases concerning data protection and freedom of information requests.

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Final decision

We will not investigate this complaint. This is because it is unlikely we can add to the investigation already carried out by the Council and an investigation is unlikely to lead to a different result.

Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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