The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complains the Council banned him from several forums and is withholding information he has asked for. We will not investigate this complaint. The Council has agreed to carry out the overdue review of the ban which is a suitable remedy to this part of the complaint. It is reasonable for Mr X to complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office about access to information.
- The complainant, I shall call Mr X, complains the Council has:
- banned him from several Council meetings
- written untrue and outrageous information in its letter
- refused to provide information
- failed to review its ban; and
- delayed in its responses
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’, which we call ‘fault’. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint, which we call ‘injustice’. 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
- further investigation would not lead to a different outcome
- there is another body better placed to consider this complaint
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6))
- The Information Commissioner's Office considers complaints about freedom of information. Its decision notices may be appealed to the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights). So, where we receive complaints about freedom of information, we normally consider it reasonable to expect the person to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner.
How I considered this complaint
- I considered information provided by Mr X and the Council.
- I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code and Mr X’s comments on the draft version of this decision.
- Mr X attended a virtual meeting of a Council forum. The Council says he was disruptive. It says following warnings from the Chair, Mr X was removed from the meeting and continued to make allegations of harassment, fraud and bullying against two councillors on social media.
- The Monitoring Officer wrote to Mr X. He said he had reviewed his files and considered that Mr X’s behaviour over recent years has escalated, with him using social media to harass several councillors. It says this has continued to the point that one of the Councillors reported him to the Police.
- The Monitoring Officer confirmed he has written to Mr X many times about his conduct. As it considered his unreasonable behaviour continued, the Council banned him from five specific meetings for six months, after which it will review the matter.
- The Council accepts the review of the ban is late. However, it has confirmed it will complete this and advise Mr X of the outcome shortly.
- Our role is to look for administrative fault. We are not an appeal body for people who disagree with a council’s decision. We have no powers to question a council’s decision if there was no fault in the way it was reached.
- I understand Mr X is unhappy with the letter he received from the Council. But the Council reviewed its records and his conduct at the virtual meeting. Mr X says the Council’s letter to him contained false information. However, he has not advised what information is incorrect.
- Based on the information I have seen, the Council is at fault because it failed to review the meeting ban after six months. It has now confirmed it will complete the review and advise Mr X of the outcome. This is a suitable remedy for this error.
- Mr X also says the Council has failed to provide information he has requested. I do not intend to investigate this part of the complaint. This is because it concerns access to information and Mr X can therefore complain to the Information Commissioners Office (ICO). The ICO deal with complaints about Council’s failures to comply with data protection legislation or the Freedom of Information Act.
- There is no charge for making a complaint to the ICO, and its complaints procedure is relatively easy to use. Where someone has a complaint about access to information, the Ombudsman usually expects them to bring the matter to the attention of the ICO. This is because the ICO is in a better position than the Ombudsman to consider such complaints.
- Finally, Mr X also says he is unhappy with the way his complaint was handled. But it is not a good use of public resources to look at a Council’s complaints handling if we are not going to look at the substantive issue complained about. We will not therefore investigate this issue separately.
- I will not investigate this complaint. We are unlikely to find fault in the process the Council followed leading to its decision to ban Mr X from the meetings. Also, the Council has advised it will complete the review of the ban and advise him of the outcome. I do not consider that further investigation of this point will lead to a different outcome.
- It is reasonable for Mr X to complain to the ICO if he believes the Council is withholding information which he is entitled to.
- There is insufficient injustice caused by a failure to follow the complaints procedure alone to warrant our involvement.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman