The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman found fault by Transport for London on the complaint sent by Ms E’s advisor about its failure to investigate incidents about staff behaviour she reported. It failed to ensure her first complaint was investigated and nor did it provide evidence of investigating another. There was lack of clarity about whether reports were for investigation by TFL or another operator. It agreed to send her an apology, pay her £125, and make procedural changes to prevent any future recurrence of the fault found.
- Mr D complains on behalf of Ms E that Transport for London (TFL) failed to properly investigate incidents she reported in 2016 about staff’s racially abusive behaviour towards her at a station or respond to her complaint properly; as a result, she feels ignored and distressed by her treatment.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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)
- We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered all the information Mr D sent on behalf of Ms E, the notes I made of the telephone conversation I had with him, and TFL’s response to my enquiries, a copy of which I sent him. I did not send him a complete copy as TFL asked for some of the information to remain confidential because it was about staff. I sent Mr D, Ms E, and TFL a copy of my draft decision. I considered their responses.
What I found
- Ms E is unhappy with the way TFL responded to several incidents she reported about its staff in one of its train stations:
- October 2016: Ms E was at a tube station one morning when she interacted with a member of staff there. During her encounter, she claimed the member of staff said people where she came from had ‘no class’. She felt this was racist. As he was not wearing a name badge, and he refused to give his name, she could not provide his name when she later complained.
- November: TFL stated it received Ms E’s report. It passed it on to the company operating the Dockland Light Railway (the operator) and the train stations and network on behalf of TFL. The incident was marked ‘no response required’ which meant no response required by TFL. The operator wrongly assumed this meant the case did not need investigating. TFL said this was not normal practice and while it may not need feedback on a complaint, it does expect a thorough investigation. In response to my enquiries, TFL confirmed it had not investigated this complaint.
- I have seen copies of 2 information sheets completed by staff about her first visit and a second visit she made in November to speak to the station manager. There was also a brief record of her visiting the following month.
- December: Ms E received a call from TFL apologising for the incident. TFL later confirmed her June report was not investigated.
- June 2017: Ms E returned to the station and saw a member of staff who was present during the previous incident. She reminded him the incident was still on her mind. He told her the transport police were watching her and began to say, ‘people like you’ but stopped speaking. When she asked him what he was going to say, she claimed he swore at her. She noted he was not wearing a name badge. A note of Ms E’s allegations ends with an entry on 22 June. This recorded the officer calling her and apologising for the way she had been treated and told her the complaint would be passed to the operator.
- July: The email complaint from her partner was undated but I saw an email response from TFL. In it, TFL said it investigated this report and the station manager had spoken to the staff member in question and taken the ‘necessary action’. For reasons of staff confidentiality, it could not provide specific details. The email said the member of staff acted inappropriately but also breached the uniform policy by not wearing a name badge.
- I have seen an email from London TravelWatch about Ms E’s complaint against TFL. This is an independent statutory watchdog for transport users in and around London. It looks at complaints from those unhappy with the response received from their transport provider. This confirmed TFL sent her a response in July with an apology but no information could be disclosed about any action taken against staff. It did not uphold her complaint.
- In response to my enquiries about the June incident, TFL said it identified several staff involved but found no evidence of ‘disrespectful or non-compliant behaviour’. The only evidence was one party’s word against the other. TFL did not provide evidence of the investigation or action taken in response to my enquiries.
- September: Ms E and her partner went back to the station. The manager refused to talk to her but said no complaint was received about him before from her and no action had been taken against him or the other member of staff. She claimed he swore at her. Her partner emailed TFL with a complaint and details of the incident.
- Ms E did not contact Mr D, her advisor, for help until September. Mr D explained delay seeking help was a common response of victims of hate crime. When he complained to TFL about it at the start of October, he was initially told to approach another organisation. He says requests for TFL to deal with the complaint were not responded to. The other operator wrote to Ms E and explained the station has 2 parts, one of which is run by TFL. It decided the complaint was against TFL.
- November: TFL asked Ms E for more details so it could investigate.
- January 2018: Mr D again wrote to TFL about the complaint.
- In response to my enquiries, TFL explained:
- It did not deal with her complaint properly as there was a breakdown in communication which meant her initial report was not investigated;
- It wrongly referred her to make a complaint to another operator; and
- All staff receive equality and diversity training when employed and then a risk based competence management system. This involves regular examination, assessment, incident review, and line manager quality checks.
- TFL’s formal complaint procedure is as follows:
- All complaints are acknowledged within 48 hours;
- Customer services staff aim to provide a full and fair investigation of all complaints and a full response is sent within 10 working days. If more time is needed, TFL will explain what is happening, how long it will take, and give the contact details of the person dealing with the complaint;
- A complaint not resolved by customer services staff can be escalated for review by a manager or independent adviser;
- If they remain unhappy with the response, they can refer the complaint to the Ombudsman or London Travelwatch; and
- Where a complaint is about a member of staff, the details of any action taken against them remains confidential under the Data Protection Act 1998 and will not normally be disclosed.
- 2016 report: There was poor communication between TFL and the operator about Ms E’s report. The result of the misunderstanding by the operator meant Ms E’s complaint about staff behaviour was not investigated.
- While TFL explained it passed the complaint on to the operator to investigate, the way it dealt with later reports from Ms E about staff at the same station suggests it should have investigated her initial report too. On balance, therefore, I consider the failure to deal with her initial report was fault.
- 2017 reports: TFL responded to her report about the June incident. An email to her said it had been investigated. The email said a manager had spoken to staff and taken ‘necessary action’. It referred to staff acting inappropriately and breaching policy by failing to wear name badges. TFL failed to provide any evidence in response to my enquiries that it investigated this report or of any action taken in response to its findings. Evidence involving staff could have been served on the Ombudsman with a legal notice requiring it to remain confidential. These failures amount to fault.
- In response to my enquiries, TFL also said it found no evidence of ‘disrespectful or non-compliant’ behaviour by its staff. This contradicts what it said in its initial email to Ms E as that implied the ‘necessary action’ taken was because of its finding that staff acted inappropriately and had also failed to wear name badges.
- There is no evidence showing TFL responded to the fresh allegation made in October. A letter from TFL advised Mr D to make the complaint to another operator. Again, as this involved staff at the station it claimed it investigated in June, it is unclear why TFL referred it on. In November, TFL then asked Mr D for more information about the incident to which Mr D responded in January 2018. There is no evidence of TFL responding and progressing the complaint through its complaints procedure. This is fault.
- I also consider the lack of clarity and inconsistency about who is responsible for dealing with this type of complaint amounts to fault.
- I considered our internal guidance about remedies.
- TFL agreed to carry out the following action within 4 weeks of the final decision on this complaint:
- Send Ms E a written apology for the failure to deal properly with her incident report of 2016 and the failures in dealing with her complaints.
- Make a payment to her of £125 for the lost opportunity to have her reports properly investigated, the frustration felt, and the time and trouble to which she was put pursuing her complaint.
- Take steps to ensure procedures are in place to check it provides evidence in future responses to the Ombudsman in support of claims of investigations and action taken on reports about incidents involving staff.
- Remind station staff of the need to wear name badges and ensure they are visible.
- Ensure referrals of complaints to another operator make it clear that an investigation is needed to avoid the fault with the 2016 report.
- Provide clear information to relevant staff about what types of complaint are investigated by TFL and what types are dealt with other operators.
- The Ombudsman found fault on Ms E’s complaint against TFL. The agreed action remedies the avoidable injustice caused.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman