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Liverpool City Council (21 002 029)

Category : Other Categories > Other

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 23 Sep 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr and Mrs B complained the Council failed to tell them that limits imposed on their contact with the Council under the unreasonable behaviour policy had ended. The Council accepts it did not tell Mr B it had lifted restrictions and said that Mrs B was not monitored under the policy. Mr and Mrs B say this has caused them delay and uncertainty. We find the Council were at fault for failing to tell Mr B his restrictions had ended and for failing to adequately explain Mrs B’s status under the policy and the Council has agreed to remedy the injustice of uncertainty.

The complaint

  1. Mr and Mrs B complain the Council failed to tell them it had lifted restrictions under its unreasonable behaviour policy. Mr and Mrs B says this prevented them raising legitimate complaints and caused delay and confusion.

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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 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)
  2. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have read the information provided by Mr and Mrs B. I made enquiries to the Council and have considered the information it supplied.
  2. Mr and Mrs B and the Council have been sent a draft of this decision and I have considered their comments before making this final decision.

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What I found

  1. In all cases where a decision is taken to impose restrictions on a customer’s contact under the Council’s management of unreasonable behaviour policy, an officer must write to tell the customer how long the restrictions will last.
  2. The customer must also be advised that they can challenge the decision if they disagree with it.
  3. A formal review of the person’s status under the policy will be undertaken by the manager who applied the policy and an officer from the Customer Feedback Team at the end of the period specified in the original decision letter.
  4. If a decision is made to continue to apply the policy, the person must be advised of this decision in writing, giving the reasons for continuation of the policy, the net review date, and the right to appeal the decision.

Our guidance on managing unreasonable complainant behaviour

  1. Our guidance says that when imposing a restriction on access, councils should have a specified review date. Limits should be lifted, and relationships returned to normal unless there are good grounds to extend them.
  2. The Council should tell the complainant(s) of the outcome of the review. If limits are to continue, councils should explain the reasons and state when the limits will next be reviewed.

What happened

  1. In August 2015, the Council wrote to Mr B explaining it had decided to treat his contacts in line with its vexatious complaints’ procedure that predated the managing unreasonable behaviour policy. The policy allows the Council to restrict the way a complainant can contact the Council.
  2. The Council said it was taking this action because of the volume of
    Mr B’s contacts with staff members about issues it had already dealt with under its complaint’s procedure. It said the Council had decided to limit Mr B’s contact with the Council to a single point of contact, the Customer Feedback Team. The Council said it would review the decision in 12 months. Mr B’s details were placed on the managing unreasonable behaviour register.
  3. Between August 2016 and August 2018, the Council annually reviewed Mr B’s vexatious status under its new policy for managing unreasonable behaviour (MUB). The reviews took account of his continuing contact with different staff members about previous complaint issues. During this time, the Council decided to carry on with the restrictions it had imposed. The Council said if Mr B wanted to make any formal complaints or correspond with it about existing complaints, he must do so through a third party such as the Citizens Advice Bureau. From 2018 he was given a nominated email address to make complaints. The Council said it would review the decision in another 12 months.
  4. In 2018 the Council says it told Mrs B it would not respond separately to her if she raised the same issues as Mr B in her own name. It said it would expect Mr B to share the Council’s responses with her.
  5. In August 2019, the Council reviewed Mr B’s status and decided that it would not renew the restrictions. However, it did not communicate this to Mr B.
  6. In March 2021 Mr B contacted the Council and asked for an update on both his and Mrs B’s status on the MUB register.
  7. The Council said that while it had reviewed Mr B’s status it had not advised him that he was no longer subject to the restrictions and apologised for this. It also noted that it had since changed its process for applying the MUB policy. It said that it should have informed Mr B that if it decided to continue with any restrictions, it would write to confirm this. However, it said that if it did not write to the complainant again after 12 months, then this meant that the person subject to restrictions should assume the restrictions applied have ended.
  8. Mr B complained to the Ombudsman in May 2021.
  9. As part of my enquiries the Council said that it had apologised to Mr B and accepted that it should have told him that his restricted status under its MUB policy had been lifted. However, it said that Mr B could have contacted the Council during the period between 2019 and 2021 to check his status. It said it felt that while his contact had been restricted, he was still able to make a complaint and that therefore he had not suffered any penalty by not being informed.
  10. The Council said that Mrs B had never been subject to its MUB policy or placed on the register.

Analysis

  1. In August 2019, the Council reviewed Mr B’s status under its MUB policy. It accepts that it did not inform him he was no longer subject to the restrictions it had imposed. This was fault. Our guidance is clear the Council should have told Mr B of the result of its review. Mr B contacted the Council to check on his and Mrs B’s status under the MUB policy. This was 19 months after the Council had conducted its review and decided that his status under the policy would not be renewed. The Council’s failure to tell Mr B was fault and caused him uncertainty.
  2. Mrs B said she believed that she was subject to the Council’s MUB policy with Mr B. The Council has said that Mrs B has never been placed on MUB register. However, in its review of Mr B in 2018 it says that it told Mrs B it would not respond separately to her if she contacted it about any issues already raised by Mr B. We consider it best practice for councils to follow up significant conversations and events in writing. The Council failed to do this. A letter summarising the conversation would have clarified that Mrs B was not subject to the MUB policy which she believed she was. The Council’s failure is fault and caused Mrs B uncertainty as well.
  3. The Council says it has amended its MUB policy to say “All restrictions will end 12 months after they were applied. If (the Council) wish to continue to apply restrictions after this, it must write to the customer to tell them why this is in line with the review section of the policy.” The Council has also said it has added a check in to the procedure to ensure this is included in all letters it sends out to apply restrictions under the Managing Unreasonable Behaviour (MUB) policy. I am satisfied that the Council has now put procedures in place to make the procedure clear to customers.
  4. Where we find fault that has caused injustice we aim to put the person back in the place they would have been but for the fault. Our Guidance on Remedies suggests that where a person cannot be put back in the place, they would have been but for the fault identified in the investigation we will recommend the Council makes a symbolic payment in recognition of the avoidable uncertainty caused to Mr and Mrs B.
  5. In making the following recommendations I have considered the Council’s offer of remedial action.

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Agreed action

  1. To address the injustice caused the Council has agreed by 25 October 2021 to:
  • Apologise to Mr and Mrs B for the uncertainty caused; and
  • Pay Mr and Mrs B £100 for avoidable uncertainty caused by the Council’s failure to clarify Mr B was no longer subject to restrictions and for failing to clarify discussions with Mrs B with clear written information

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Final decision

  1. I find fault with the Council for not telling Mr B restrictions had been lifted and for failing to clarify Mrs B's status in writing, causing uncertainty to them both.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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