Personnel and employment problems

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at council employees who have an employment-related problem and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

I have a problem about employment with the council. Can the Ombudsman help me?

In most cases the law says we cannot investigate matters relating to action taken in respect of appointments, removals, pay, discipline, superannuation or other personnel matters. This is because when Parliament created the Ombudsman service it wanted the Ombudsman to deal with relations between councils and the people they govern and not become involved in disputes between councils and their employees. This is in part because many employees will have the right to go to an Employment Tribunal to try and resolve their grievance.

In most cases we will also not investigate complaints from volunteers about appointments, removals, pay, discipline or other personnel matters as being so similar to something we do not have the power to investigate and as volunteers have the option of withdrawing their service.

This fact sheet also applies to complaints from care provider employees.

We have no power to investigate complaints about:

  • the way the council recruits staff for permanent or temporary jobs
  • decisions to terminate employment whether by dismissal or redundancy
  • pay or other benefits in kind such as a company car, loans for season tickets or subsidised transport
  • complaints about the way the council treats its staff such as entitlement to leave
  • bullying at the workplace
  • sick pay
  • work related health problems
  • entitlement to maternity or paternity leave and maternity pay
  • disciplinary procedures
  • grievance procedures
  • pensions
  • disagreements about the scope and terms of your employment, and
  • industrial disputes such as a strike or work to rule.

Complaints by Councillors

Complaints by councillors about their dealings with the council as a councillor will not normally be investigated, but we may investigate complaints about a councillor's dealings with the council as a service user, such as complaints about housing or refuse collection.

We can investigate a complaint made by a council employee about services they receive from the council such as problems with education, housing or social services. These complaints can be investigated in the usual way irrespective of the fact that the complainant is an employee of the council.

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.

Usually, you should complain to us within 12 months of when you first knew about the problem. If you leave it any later, we may not be able to help.

For more information on how to complain, please read our step by step process.

If you consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?

If we can investigate a complaint from you we have to decide if the council has done something wrong in the way it dealt with you and whether this has caused you a problem. 

What happens if the Ombudsman finds the council was at fault?

If we find the council did something wrong which affected you, we will ask the council to take steps to reduce the effects where possible.

Where we find fault with the council’s proceduress we may recommend that the council introduces changes so the same problem will not happen again.

In some cases we may ask for a payment to recognise the problems caused to you. 

Examples of some complaints we have considered

A council officer was wrongly issued with a parking ticket and appealed. She complained about the parking enforcement officer’s insulting behaviour towards her. The appeal was allowed but in the meantime, she was pressured by her manager to pay the ticket to avoid embarrassment. We could investigate the conduct of the enforcement officer, but we could not investigate the actions of her line manager.
We can investigate a complaint about the behaviour of a council officer as this is not a complaint about a personnel issue.
We can investigate complaints by foster carers as they are not employees.

Other sources of information

Employment and personnel problems often involve complicated legal issues and we strongly recommend that you seek help with your problem.

If you are a member of a trade union you should contact the union because it may be able to help you.

Citizens Advice can give free advice. You can find the nearest branch in the telephone directory or on its website at (the website includes a section with advice on employment).

Many solicitors can give you advice on employment and personnel issues but there is normally a charge for this advice.

A list of prescribed persons and bodies that you can blow the whistle to rather than your employer be found at:


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.

We provide a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result we aim to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

November 2023

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