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Norfolk County Council (20 014 019)

Category : Other Categories > Other

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 10 Aug 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms X complains about a council officer’s inaccurate note of a public meeting. She also complains about how the Council has implemented its unreasonably persistent complainant policy against her. We have discontinued our investigation because we are unlikely to find fault with the Council and we cannot achieve the outcome Ms X wants. Ms X’s complaint is also premature.

The complaint

  1. Ms X complains about a council officer’s inaccurate note of a public meeting, held in August 2019. The note was published on the Council’s website. Ms X complains the Council has failed to correct the note after submitted evidence of the inaccuracies. She also complains about how the Council has implemented its unreasonably persistent complainant policy against her. She says the Council has not followed the procedure set out in its policy properly.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
  2. We can decide whether to start or discontinue an investigation into a complaint within our jurisdiction. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 24A(6) and 34B(8), as amended)
  3. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We do not start or may decide not to continue with an investigation if we decide:
  • there is not enough evidence of fault to justify investigating, or
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants, or

(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6))

  1. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint unless we are satisfied the council knows about the complaint and has had an opportunity to investigate and reply. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to notify the council of the complaint and give it an opportunity to investigate and reply. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(5))

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information Ms X provided.
  2. I considered the information provided by the Council.
  3. I sent a draft decision to Ms X and the Council and asked for their comments.

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What I found

What happened

  1. Ms X previously referred a complaint to the Ombudsman in January 2020. In that complaint, Ms X complained the official notes of a meeting of the Norfolk Autism Partnership Board (NAPB) were inaccurate and misrepresented her. Ms X wanted the Council to amend the notes of the meeting.
  2. The NAPB’s role is to deliver the local autism strategy. It does this by raising awareness about autism, putting together action plans, and influencing its partners to improve services for people with autism. The Council is a membership organisation of the NAPB and provides administrative support when needed.
  3. The notes of the meeting were drafted by the Autism Commissioner (AC). This was an officer of the Council. The drafted notes were approved by the NAPB engagement working group. The Council said the notes were owned by the NAPB and it could not amend the notes.
  4. The Ombudsman decided to discontinue our investigation. This is because we did not consider the NAPB to be within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction and we could not achieve the outcome Ms X wanted.
  5. In our decision, we told Ms X that the actions of the AC may be in jurisdiction as they were a council officer. However, we noted that even if the Ombudsman were to find fault through the actions of the AC, we did not have any remit to recommend the NAPB amend the meeting notes. Therefore, the Ombudsman could not achieve the outcome Ms X wanted.
  6. Ms X brought another complaint to the Ombudsman in March 2021. Ms X felt this complaint was different to her complaint in 2020 because she was now complaining specifically about the actions of the AC. She also now wanted the Council to amend the meeting notes on its website and said she understood the Ombudsman cannot recommend the NAPB amend the notes.
  7. The NAPB notes are no longer hosted on the Council’s website as the NAPB has since set up its own website.
  8. Ms X also complained the Council had not carried out its unreasonably persistent complainant policy against her properly. She said the Council had not followed its procedures in its policy.
  9. Ms X said she had not complained to the Council as she felt the Council would just say she was an unreasonably persistent complainant and would not investigate the complaint.

Analysis

  1. We recognise Ms X has now made her complaint against the AC. We note the AC is a council officer and that we previously told Ms X the AC’s actions may be within our jurisdiction.
  2. The evidence shows the AC did draft the notes of the meeting. However, the notes were then approved by the engagement working group of the NAPB. Therefore, this suggests that while the AC had a role in drafting the notes, they were not involved in approving and finalising the notes. Instead, it was the NAPB who did this.
  3. Therefore, on balance, it is unlikely any further investigation would find fault with the Council. This is because the finalised notes were not approved by the Council. This means responsibility for the note remains with the NAPB.
  4. We also still cannot achieve the outcome Ms X wants. This is because, while she changed her outcome from her previous complaint, the Ombudsman still has no jurisdiction to recommend the NAPB amend the notes. We cannot recommend the Council amend the notes because the responsibility for finalising and agreeing the note lies with the NAPB.
  5. Further, the notes of the meeting are no longer hosted on the Council’s website. This is because the NAPB has set up its own website.
  6. Ms X’s complaint about how the Council has carried out its unreasonably persistent complainant policy is premature. This is because Ms X has not yet complained to the Council and given them the opportunity to respond.
  7. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint unless we are satisfied the council knows about the complaint and has had an opportunity to investigate and reply. Whilst I acknowledge Ms X has her own views on how the Council will respond to the complaint, it should still be given the opportunity to respond.
  8. Therefore. I am satisfied it is not unreasonable to notify the Council and give it an opportunity to investigate and reply to Ms X’s complaint.

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Final decision

  1. I have discontinued my investigation. This is because we are unlikely to find fault with the Council and we cannot achieve the outcome Ms X wants. Further, her other complaint is premature, and the Council should be given the opportunity to investigate and respond to the complaint.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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