This fact sheet is aimed primarily at civil society organisations who are having difficulties with the implementation of a compact agreement with the council and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.
What is a civil society organisation (CSO)?
CSOs are bodies such as charities, social enterprises and community groups. Examples might include residents associations, preservation trusts, allotment societies, community associations, advice organisations such as CABs and charities providing support for people with specific needs in the locality.
Most councils have a large number of such organisations operating in their area. Some of them may receive annual grants from the council to support their community activities, or the CSO may have a contract with the council to provide specific services to people living there.
What is a compact?
A compact is an agreement between a government body and civil society organisations (CSOs) which sets out a how the working relationship between them will operate.
Every council is expected to either have its own local compact agreement with CSOs in its area, or to abide by the principles in the National Compact statement (issued by the coalition Government in December 2010) that governs working relationships. The purpose is to strengthen trust and commitment between partner organisations so they can work together flexibly for the benefit of their local community.
The council has not consulted our CSO in line with the compact agreement. Can the Ombudsman help me?
In some cases, yes. If consultation on matters that affect the purpose for which your CSO operates has not taken place and your CSO has suffered some disadvantage as a result, you may have grounds for a complaint. If there is no satisfactory resolution to local difficulties in implementation of a compact agreement, the CSO can complain to us. The CSO is a body that can suffer loss, expense, or inconvenience if their reasonable expectations, based on the compact, are not met, so we can look at complaints from CSOs in their own right. We can also look at complaints where a CSO is acting as representative for an individual who has suffered from fault or service failure, when a council has not worked in accord with compact good practice standards. Sometimes a CSO and an individual may make joint complaints.
We can investigate complaints where commissioning or contracting may be at issue since the law was changed to allow us to investigate certain contractual matters, such as complaints of a flawed contract bidding processes. But it does depend on the nature of the dispute and whether it would be better dealt with as a contract dispute in the courts.
How do I complain?
You should normally complain to the council first. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will usually have to complete all stages before we will look at your complaint.
Then, if you are unhappy with the outcome, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter – we think 12 weeks is reasonable – you can complain to us.
You should normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.
If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?
In investigating complaints about compacts we will have regard to the benchmarks established by the National Compact statement, and locally agreed compacts, especially where the CSO is a recognised partner organisation. Promised behaviours, such as the following examples, are all measures of whether a compact agreement is being honoured:
- early involvement in service planning
- timely consultation
- giving adequate notice of funding changes, and
- effective communication
What happens if the Ombudsman finds that the council was at fault?
It depends on what went wrong and how that affected the CSO itself, or the person it is representing.
For example, if a council has withdrawn funding for a CSO without warning, or consultation, we would ask the council to reconsider its decision, after consulting parties involved.
In appropriate cases, we can recommend that the council pay a financial remedy for distress or inconvenience caused, and for any time and trouble expended in making the complaint. The level of financial remedy will depend on the how badly the council’s wrong-doing has affected the CSO or person involved.
We may also recommend that the council review its policies and procedures to avoid the same problem happening to another individual or CSO.
Examples of some complaints we have considered
Other sources of information
The Accountability and Transparency Guide is a companion document to the National Compact statement. It sets out how the relationships between partner organisations should work, and what steps can be taken if they do not. Many council compacts set out local dispute resolution protocols. It can be found on gov.uk.
Compact Voice - www.compactvoice.org.uk - provides a network of over 2,300 members ranging from community organisations to large national charities. Their Board members are from front line groups and umbrella bodies, in turn representing over 20,000 voluntary and community groups. Their literature and activities promote good practice across England. Their website at gives easy access to the national Compact and the Accountability and Transparency guide.
Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.