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Investigation Manual

36. Public interest reports and Adverse Findings Notices 

The power to publish a public report is one of the most important tools we have in our casework. 

  • Reports can play an important part in remedying injustice for the individual, providing a sense of public vindication and closure when things have gone seriously wrong.
  • Reports can be used to demonstrate how we increasingly use our powers to provide a remedy for many people from just one complaint.
  • Reports drive wider improvement in public services, sharing systemic faults or landmark decisions for others to learn from.
  • Reports contribute important evidence to public policy debates, giving a voice to the voiceless, by highlighting day-to-day injustices and service failures that our investigations expose.
  • Reports are the single most important method of raising public awareness of our role and inform people of their right to an independent investigation of their case.
  • Reports demonstrate to Parliament and to the public that we are playing our part in an open, democratic society by holding public bodies to account, where it is merited.

But, like any discretionary power, we must use it thoughtfully. And we must be able to demonstrate that we have applied consistent, rational criteria in deciding when to report. 

To achieve that, we have agreed six criteria. These do not represent an automatic trigger to report – each case should be considered individually if one or more of these factors is present:

  1. Recurrent faults
  2. Significant fault, injustice, or remedy (by scale or number of people affected)
  3. Non-compliance with an Ombudsman’s recommendation
  4. A high volume of complaints about one subject
  5. A significant topical issue (such as those in raised our Focus Reports)
  6. Systemic problems and/or wider lessons

We should keep these criteria in mind throughout the lifetime of each case. Sometimes the need for a report will be apparent from the start, on other occasions it might emerge later in the process. 

When we are minded to report, we need to ensure that we have a clear record of our thinking, based on the agreed criteria.  We also need to inform both parties at the earliest opportunity that we propose to report. There should be no surprises for anyone in this process.

The issues in criteria 4-6 may also warrant a Focus Report. The Ombudsman does not have to have been critical of a BinJ to issue a report. Where there is significant local concern about an issue the Ombudsman may issue a public interest report to allay those concerns.

All Investigators and Assistant Ombudsmen should take proactive steps to identify potential reports and report issues. See the Reports and Adverse Findings Notice Manual.

All Investigators may be expected to work on public interest reports, focus reports or other publications highlighting lessons from our work.

An Adverse Finding Notice under Part 3A of the LGA 74 is the equivalent of LGSCO issuing a statement of non-compliance under Part 3. The process of issuing an Adverse Findings Notice can be found in the Reports and Adverse Findings Notice Manual. 

See the flowchart for the reports process, with timescales on the Page resources tab of the Reports and Adverse Findings Notice Manual.

  • When potential reports are identified, the Investigator/Assistant Ombudsman should set out on the ‘Report Proposal’ form or in Notes & Analysis the reasons for reporting and the Assistant Ombudsman should set a task for the Ombudsman. 
  • Once a report is agreed, Investigators must take responsibility for meeting timescales, quality and accuracy of the report. There is a timetable for each stage in the process. Movement to the next internal stage is expected within 10 working days (15 working days for preparing the draft report).
  • Investigators should draft the report with any help with formatting or proof reading from the Team Coordinator. The draft must include conclusions and recommendations.
  • The draft must be approved for consultation with the complainant and BinJ (and others as necessary) by the Assistant Ombudsman and Ombudsman.
  • The Investigator should make any necessary amendments and ensure the report is publishable.
  • The Assistant Ombudsman should agree the final report and pass for legal advice if necessary and then to Policy & Communications for final checks.
  • The Ombudsman signs off the final report, which should not need further work at this stage.
  • The Team Coordinator issues the report and tracks remedies after publication.
  • The Assistant Ombudsman decides when the ‘satisfied’ letter should be issued to the BinJ.

Timelines at each stage are important. The entire process from identifying a potential report to publication should take no longer than 100 days, often less.