Guidance on issuing a public interest report
Who is this information for?
It is aimed at councils and other organisations in our jurisdiction, and people who have raised the complaint, to help them understand the process when we issue a public report into a complaint.
What is the difference between a public interest report and a decision?
All our investigation decisions are published on our website, except where publishing is not in the interests of the people involved in the complaint. In a small number of investigations we will publish a detailed report of the investigation. These require the organisation involved to make a public announcement and we will promote the report in the media. Reports and decisions do not reveal identities of the people involved but do name the organisation(s) investigated.
Why do we issue public interest reports?
If we decide it is in the public interest to highlight issues in an investigation, we will write a report. There are a number of reasons we may decide there is public interest and the common ones are:
- there are wider issues from which others can learn
- what went wrong was so significant or is recurrent
- the complaint highlights systemic problems
- the issues are about new legislation and how authorities have implemented it
We will also usually issue a public interest report if an organisation does not agree with our findings or recommendations, or put things right to our satisfaction.
Issuing public interest reports is one way that we help to ensure councils, and other organisations providing public services, remain accountable to people who use those services. And by highlighting the learning from complaints we help to improve services for others.
What happens when we decide to issue a public interest report?
Before the report is issued, all parties involved in the complaint have the opportunity to see a draft version of the report and comment on it. This includes any third parties who we may have asked for evidence from during the investigation.
Once we have received all the comments and we have finalised the report, we send it to the complainant and the authority at the same time. We anonymise reports so they do not include the names of the complainant, any authority officers or anyone else involved in the events. However, there may be exceptional circumstances where we decide not to do so if it is appropriate.
Our findings in the report are binding. If an authority wishes to challenge our findings on whether there has been fault and the injustice or loss suffered, it must do so through judicial review.
The authority then has three months from the date of the report to consider formally the report and any recommendations we have made. This means the report should be submitted to its full council (or committee if the council has delegated the authority to that committee). The authority should send a formal written response to us explaining what steps it has taken or will take to comply with the recommendations in the report.
When we are satisfied with the action(s) an authority has taken following a report, we will send a letter of satisfaction to the authority and write to the complainant explaining this. We then update the entry on our website to show we are satisfied with the outcome of the report.
How is the report published?
Reports are published on our website. We will advise authorities of the earliest date the report will be published. This will be at least six working days after we sent the complainant and the authority the final report. See our News page for recent reports.
We will usually send a copy of the report with a press release to the media. We often send out the press release in advance of the publishing date under an embargo. This means the media would have sight of the report and may contact the authority or complainant (if the complainant agrees for the press to contact them) before the publishing date, but are expected to withhold writing or broadcasting anything until after we have published the report. We do not consult on the content of our press releases but can send authorities and complainants a copy on request at the time it is issued to the media.
In addition the authority must put a public notice announcement in a local newspaper within two weeks of receiving the report. The authority should also make copies of the report available free of charge at one or more of its offices.
What happens if an authority does not comply with the recommendations?
Most authorities agree to our recommendations, often before we issue a report. However, if an authority does not, we can issue a further report. A further report will explain that an authority has not complied with our recommendations.
The authority can also add its comments to the further report explaining why it decided not to comply. The same rules about the press and publishing press notice apply and the authority has three months to formally respond to the further report.
In those rare cases where an authority fails to respond within the prescribed time or refuses to comply with recommendations in a further report we will ask the authority to issue a statement of non-compliance. If they do not agree to we can publish it on their behalf. This statement explains why we are not satisfied with how an authority has responded to a report or that it has refused to comply with our recommendation(s). The authority can add a statement to it explaining why it has not complied, and the same rules apply about the press.