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Investigation Manual

8.  Allocations

8.1.  Overall aim 

The orderly, prompt and intelligent allocation of cases gives us the best opportunity to achieve the goals set out in our Three Year Plan 2021-21 and our Business Plan 2021-22

Our strategic aim is to allocate each case to a named Investigator within 20 working days of receipt and to hold no more than 325 unallocated cases at any one time. 

Where this is not possible, we will put in place measures to ensure all complainants are treated fairly and kept up to date. 

8.2.  General allocation principles  

  • ECHO automatically allocates each case to an Investigation team based on geography. The exception is LGSCO-PHSO joint working complaints, which will be sent to the Joint Working Team. 
  • For potential Housing Ombudsman joint working complaints, Assessment will take advice from the Housing Forum chair, clearly indicating possible joint working in Notes & Analysis. (See Joint working with the HOS.) 
  • Assistant Ombudsmen are responsible for allocations within their teams. The Team Coordinator administers the process.  
  • We will use intelligent allocation to play to people’s strengths and preferences, as long as this meets the needs of and demands on the organisation.  
  • It is the expectation that any Investigator can take any type of complaint and that the composition of an individual’s caseload may vary depending on the types of complaints we receive. 
  • By exception and on rare occasions, there may be cases that cannot be investigated by a specific Investigator or group of Investigators. This could be because of the office they are based in or because the complainant has requested an investigator of a specific gender. The final decision about who to allocate a case to will be taken by the relevant Assistant Ombudsman. 
  • Assistant Ombudsmen will agree each Investigator’s optimum caseload, taking into account their experience, capacity and preference. The focus in agreeing the optimum caseload is the level that enables that Investigator to maximise their decision-making. The starting point is that experienced Investigators should hold a caseload of 18-20 complaints (adjusted pro rata for part-time Investigators).  
  • Assessment will have set a task for action with a date set eight weeks in the future. If the case has been identified as urgent, an alternative target may have been set. 
    • A Team Coordinator will write to the complainant 
      • Six weeks after the case is forwarded from Assessment, to provide an update if the case cannot be allocated at that point. 
      • Every six weeks after that until the complaint is allocated. 
      • At the point of allocation with a letter in the Director of Investigation’s name. This will say that the case has been allocated and will give the period within which the complainant should expect to hear further (up to four weeks)) The ‘Fact Sheet G2: How the Ombudsman will investigate your complaint’ will also be sent.  
  • A Team Coordinator will also write to the BinJ eight weeks after the case is forwarded from Assessment, to provide an update if the case cannot be allocated at that point. The next contact will then be made when the case is allocated to an Investigator. 
  • Where the Investigator is able to make initial contact promptly with the complainant, the Team Coordinator’s letter need not be sent, but in these circumstances the Investigator must write immediately after first contact and include Fact Sheet G2.  
  • In their own Team Coordinator’s absence, the Assistant Ombudsman must ensure alternative arrangements for allocating complaints and notifying complainants without undue delay. 

8.3.   Allocations Process 

Allocations are done in each team at least once a week, using the ‘Unallocated at IU live’ report with all teams selected. The process is directly managed by the Assistant Ombudsman, who should have weekly discussions with Investigators about allocations. The associated administrative work is done by Team Coordinators. 

The ‘Unallocated at IU live’ report lists cases in order of the time they have been with the organisation as a whole. It also shows the number of days since each case was forwarded from Assessment. 

By exception, we may choose to allocate cases where it appears there is an element of urgency as a result of either the circumstances of the person affected, or where someone has already experienced significant delay which may later compromise our ability to either investigate the complaint or – where appropriate to do so – provide a suitable remedy. 

Some examples might include:

  • A child who is out of school with no offer of alternative provision.
  • Street homelessness where a local authority has refused to assist or accept an application for support.
  • An imminent threat of eviction from a Care Home.
  • Credible and serious ongoing concerns of threat to health or safety (note, it is open to staff to make safeguarding referrals to relevant authorities at any time).
  • Where there is evidence of ongoing domestic abuse.
  • The PA having a terminal illness may be an exceptional reason
  • Where it would be more efficient for us to consider a new complaint alongside an existing investigation.

Urgent cases from any date are displayed at the top of the unallocated list where they are flagged as such on ECHO. Such cases should be noted by the Team Coordinator of the investigation team already assigned on ECHO and allocated promptly within that team, even though it means doing so ‘out of turn’.               

Whilst cases may be allocated out of turn to assist the training of new starters or to deal with specific performance issues, we try - whenever possible - to ensure the oldest cases are allocated first.  

The Assistant Ombudsman will decide the subject mix of each Investigator’s caseload, based on the need to deal with the cases we receive, ensuring a mix of complexity and taking account of the preferences of the Investigator. As ASC and Education & Children’s complaints make up just over 50% of cases to be investigated, these should form around half of the team’s caseload.   

Allocations should be made from the first page of the report, starting with the oldest first, unless there is good reason to do otherwise. This can include ensuring an Investigator has a more balanced caseload by subject or to address an identified training or development need.  

Where there is a choice of cases available, a case can be allocated within the team it is nominally assigned to on ECHO. However, this is not a compulsory requirement and the team a case is assigned to can be disregarded in the absence of a clear reason for a case to remain with that team. There may be occasions where a specific Investigator has already been identified to take a case or a special warning means a specific team or Investigator should/should not take it. 

Allocations for new Investigators without delegation will have greater involvement from the Assistant Ombudsman to ensure they receive cases of a suitable level of complexity and subject matter to match the training they have done.