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Investigation Manual

28. Ending investigations

We have an explicit statutory discretion to decide whether to continue, stop or complete an investigation.

We will consider ending an investigation which is in progress if it becomes apparent one or more of the following apply:

  • There is insufficient injustice to the complainant caused by the alleged fault by the Body in Jurisdiction to warrant further investigation;
  • There is no wider public interest or other individuals affected which would warrant further investigation;
  • We cannot achieve a worthwhile outcome for the complainant through further investigation;
  • There is another body better placed to deal with the matter

And at that point we do not have enough information to make a finding of fault.

If we have sufficient information already available to answer the question of whether there was fault, we should complete our investigation instead where it is proportionate to do so.

We may also decide to end an investigation because we conclude another body is better placed to investigate the complainant’s concerns.

We should only end an investigation after careful consideration of the reasons we are proposing to do so. If these reasons are not apparent from the statement of reasons, we should ensure they are recorded in Notes & Analysis.

Further explanation about this can be found in our Guidance on Jurisdiction.

28.1 Insufficient injustice to the complainant

We should always be clear what significant injustice the complainant says they suffered because of the alleged fault. We should test our understanding of this in our initial telephone call with the complainant, include it in the statement of complaint and keep it under review during the lifetime of the investigation.

Before we end an investigation on this basis, we should consider and record in our decision statement.

  • if there is a wider public interest that would still justify continued investigation; and
  • whether other identifiable members of the public may have suffered a significant injustice we could investigate using our S26D powers if we found fault.

If the answer to both these questions is ‘no’ we can end our investigation.

28.3 We cannot achieve a worthwhile outcome for the complainant

Before we end an investigation on this basis, we should ensure we have a clear record either in ECHO or in Notes & Analysis of the remedy we believe the complainant is looking for.

If this is not clear at the point of allocation, we should specifically ask the complainant and note their answer. We should take care to explain our long-established approach to remedying injustice and attempt to reconcile their position with ours.

Potential examples where we would be unable to achieve a worthwhile outcome for the complainant could include:

  • where they ask for a large sum of financial compensation.
  • where they say they want us to declare a decision or policy is unlawful. We need to recognise complainants may use such terms, but the action complained of can also be maladministration or service failure. The duty is on the investigator to define the complaint in our terms and not assume the complainant’s label is right.
  • where they want us to direct that a BinJ employee is subject of disciplinary proceedings.
  • where they want us to recommend a neighbouring building be removed.
  • where the complainant is clear they do not want any remedy or where the BinJ has already offered a suitable remedy during our investigation.

Such cases are likely to be rare. However, if the complainant insists on something that is unachievable as their only or main desired outcome, we should end our investigation.

This category also includes cases where the outcome the complainant wanted at the point of complaining to the Ombudsman has now been provided by the BinJ or has otherwise become unachievable by the passage of time or wider events.

28.4 Another body better placed to investigate

Most cases in this category are likely to be decided at the Assessment stage and not forwarded for further investigation.

However, it may become clear during the initial stages of an investigation that the complainant’s focus is not on the potential fault we identified in Assessment, and they would instead like us to focus on a purely ancillary matter (for example, how their data was handled).

We should take care to explain where we believe the potential fault may have occurred and that is why we decided further investigation was necessary. If the complainant does not agree that should be the focus of our investigation, we should note their statement of complaint accordingly, end our investigation and signpost them to the appropriate body instead.

28.5 Decision statements when ending an investigation without making findings

In all cases of where we end an investigation without findings, we should send a draft decision to both parties and invite them to comment as we normally would.

The decision statement should provide an extremely brief overview of the subject of the complaint. Details of what happened should be avoided, as this draws the reader to consider whether there has been fault. The focus should instead be on providing a concise explanation of why we are ending our investigation and anything relevant we took into consideration before reaching that decision.