At the start of an investigation and throughout, Investigators must decide what information is required and how to fill any gaps in knowledge. In most cases sufficient information for a robust decision can be gathered from enquiries and desk top research. On rare occasions, fieldwork will be the most effective way of getting information. If undertaking fieldwork, Investigators must follow the instructions on health and safety.
We can ask for files to be sent to us but this may not be practical because of their size or format. A file inspection can often be done with other fieldwork, such as a site inspection or interview. The Investigator should ensure that an officer at the BinJ will be available to show them how to access any electronic records, and to take copies as needed.
- The link officer (or care home manager) should be asked to arrange a mutually convenient date, time and venue.
- The Investigator should insist on seeing the original files, rather than copy documents.
- The ‘trail’ of documents should be followed to ensure nothing is missing.
- The Investigator should get copies of any documents which we need and do not already have, and which may be used in our decision making.
- The copies can be sent on to us, but the Investigator should list the documents to be copied so we can be sure everything has been provided.
- It can be helpful to take notes of the whole content of the file(s), in case there are later questions about what was on the record.
- Any significant gaps must be noted and queried.
The way interviews are conducted is very important to our aims of fairness, independence and openness. Interviews often involve people who have had little or no contact with the Ombudsman before and their experience will affect our reputation. We must be wary of the motives, memory and reliability of those we interview. We should not normally rely solely on interviews to decide how a Committee or Appeal Panel (for example) may have voted if there had been no fault in a case.
Interviews may be conducted by phone or in person. Phone interviews may be particularly appropriate when factual information is being sought and the interviewee’s conduct is not in question. Generally, however, a clearer view is likely to be gained from a face to face interview. This could be by video call or an in-person meeting.
It is for the Investigator to decide who, if anyone, must be interviewed, but if the BinJ specifically asks that we interview someone this should normally be agreed. Generally, the fewest people necessary to get the information needed for a robust decision should be interviewed.
When arranging interviews with officers, Investigators should make sure they are sent a copy of our notes for interviewees in advance. There is a template in ECHO.
Investigators should discuss any interview plans with their Assistant Ombudsman to determine whether a colleague should accompany them and to ensure the proposed venue is appropriate.
At the start of the interview, Investigators should confirm the officer has read the Notes for Interviewees. If not, allow them time to read a copy before beginning. We should make clear:
- the complaint we are investigating
- the purpose of the interview
- that we will make a note which is not intended to be verbatim
- that nothing can be ‘off the record’.
Investigators should take notes of what is said and confirm key points, including any documents referred to Investigators should also note those present, the place, the date and the start and finish times. At the end of the interview, we should explain what will happen next. We should provide a typed note to the interviewee if requested.
Some offices currently have digital recorders which enable Investigators to record in-person interviews. These should be used if available. All telephone calls are recorded too. It is also possible to record video calls made on Skype and Microsoft Teams. If advice or support about how to do this is needed, please speak to our IT colleagues.
Copies of any recordings of officer interviews should be requested from the IT Helpdesk and added to ECHO once complete.
Please see our guidance on Health and Safety and safe working.
Using our offices, or those of the BinJ or a third party organisation, may be the safest way of meeting a complainant. But sometimes visiting the complainant, especially if there are mobility issues or if seeing the property would be of benefit to the investigation, is more appropriate. Investigators should arrange to be accompanied on any home visit by another member of our staff.