The reason I decided to write and maintain this blog is because I have suffered significant injustice through numerous acts of misfeasance, malfeasance and maladministration by the Local Government Ombudsman's York office. As a result I don't want others to suffer similar injustice. What follows will be a very long series of postings exploring, in an had hoc way, the tricks the Ombudsman has used against me, the evidence that I have uncovered over the years to support my assertions and a list of everything that I feel is wrong with the Local Government Ombudsmen. I intend to maintain this blog until the Ombudsman does their job or ceases to exist.
During 2005 I gave evidence to a Government select committee. The select committee was enquiring into the "Role and Effectiveness of the Local Government Ombudsman".
As I stated in my introduction over the next few months I will be posting details of a large number of devious tactics used by the Local Government Ombudsman to block perfectly valid complaints of maladministration. This tactic has been used on me and hundreds if not thousands of other complainants.
Following the submission of your complaint the Ombudsman just rings up the Council to discuss it (in secret of course). If the Council advise the Ombudsman there is nothing for them to investigate (or misleads them in other ways) the Ombudsman simply believes them and terminates your complaint. I even have a letter from a Deputy Ombudsman who suggests there is nothing wrong with that approach. I also have an investigator on tape naively stating that the Council would not mislead them. This is what happened to Mr and Mrs Balchin during 1991 and many hundreds of others over the last few years. (The Balchin's is a well known case that proves that beyond a shadow of a doubt. It took them nearly 20 years to obtain the justice they deserved because of the Local Government Ombudsman prefers to accept the word of a Council rather than investigating a complaint properly)
No matter how strong your evidence is the Ombudsman refuses to look at it and accepts the word of the Council. In my case I had third party evidence which the Ombudsman flatly refused to look at. In spite of that the Local Government Ombudsman still maintain they are impartial.
During a telephone conversation with an Investigator (which I recorded) they told me that the Ombudsman’s office manipulate the work they do in order to meet their targets. The Ombudsman refuses to accept that they fiddle the figures, I even have a couple of letters from the Ombudsman and an Assistant Ombudsman stating that they would never do that. The problem is that I also have a copy of a letter from the Ombudsman to a Council proving that they do in fact double count some complaints.
The Local Government Ombudsman is empowered by statute to investigate complaints from members of the public who claim to have suffered injustice as a result of maladministration.
However, over the last few years the Ombudsman has started to introduce other words into their unique interpretation of the 1974 Act.
Words such as material and significant are now used to make it even more difficult for a complainant to meet the criteria for an investigation of their complaint. As a result the Ombudsman will now only investigate a complaint when the Ombudsman considers the complainant has suffered significant injustice.
However, here is what Crossman, Leader or the House of Commons had to say on the matter. : "We have not tried to define injustice by using such terms as `loss or damage'. These may have legal overtones which could be held to exclude one thing which I am particularly anxious shall remain – the sense of outrage aroused by unfair or incompetent administration, even where the complainant has suffered no actual loss. We intend that the outraged citizen…shall have the right to an investigation, even where he has suffered no loss or damage in the legal sense of those terms, but is simply a good citizen who has nothing to lose and wishes to clear up a sense of outrage and indignation at what he believes to be a maladministration."
Furthermore, if you read the case reports over the last thirty years you can quite clearly see that the bar has been raised and it is now much more difficult to prove you have suffered the level of injustice necessary to warrant an investigation than it used to be.
I find it rather ironic that an organisation, set up in 1974 to investigate complaints from members of the public who claim to have suffered injustice as a result of maladministration, now spend more time and effort doing the opposite of what the Government intended and Crossman expected.
There are three Local Government Ombudsmen in England, each of them handling a particular geographical area. I am focused on the York office simply because it is responsible for the area in which I live. As a result most of my experience is with the York Office. I am not implying they are any better or worse than any other Ombudsman. In fact from my research it is quite clear that all the Local Government Ombudsmen are just as bad as each other.
The Ombudsman will often use what I loosely term ‘linguistic gymnastics’ to overcome their difficulties. As one example, the Local Government Ombudsmen derive their powers from the 1974 Local Government Act. The act clearly states that the Ombudsmen’s purpose is to investigate complaints from members of the public who claim to have suffered injustice as a result of maladministration.
The Ombudsman also has the statutory discretion to terminate a complaint at any time up to a finding of maladministration. After a finding of maladministration the act states they must issue a report.
However, when the Ombudsman identifies maladministration they deviously use the words ‘administrative fault’ instead of the term maladministration. That allows them to accommodate the council should the council ask for the case to be locally settled. If that happens the Ombudsman accepts a paltry pay off on behalf of the complainant and that is the end of the matter. The Ombudsman states that they found ‘administrative fault’ but the case was locally settled.
Should the council refuse to locally settle the complaint the Ombudsman then call ‘administrative fault by it’s true name, maladministration and issue a formal report.
In essence, the Local Government Ombudsmen have unlawfully extended their statutory powers to include local settlements. They try to hide the fact by using ‘linguistic gymnastics’ to put a thin veneer of apparent lawfulness over their illegal acts.
Please note: Since this post was made the Government has given the Local Government Ombudsman the statutory authority to settle a case. Proof that they couldn't have had the powers when this post was made.
On a number of occasions I have had to threaten to submit a complaint to the FOI commissioner just to obtain documents and information from the Local Government Ombudsman. However, on one occasion even the threat of submitting a complaint to the FOI commissioner failed to secure a copy of the information I had requested. As a result I had to submit a complaint to the FOI commissioner. What is unusual is that the Local Government Ombudsman gave the council a copy of my complaint together with the opportunity to respond but I have never been allowed to see the council’s response to my complaint or comment on it in any way.Even though the laws of natural justice state that both parties should see all the evidence used by the Local Government Ombudsman when reaching their decision they still refuse to let me see the evidence on which they based their decision.
I think it ludicrous that a complainant has to submit a complaint to the FOI commissioner in order to gain access to documents they need in order to effectively pursue their complaint. Information that the Local Government Ombudsman should have provided, as of right, in the course of their decision making process. However, it is not only the Local Government Ombudsman who refuses to divulge information without recourse to the FOI commissioner. Councillors in Norwich Council had to use the FOI Act in order to get information from their own executive. How ludicrous is that! A Chief Executive Officer of a Council refusing to give their own Councillors (Norwich local taxpayers elected representatives) information and forcing them to use the FOI Act.
Now here is the interesting bit, the CEO of Norwich Council at the time was Mrs Ann Seex and she is now a Local Government Ombudsman.So the refusal to give information without recourse to the FOI commissioner would appear to be a devious tactic that Mrs Seex has brought with her. Shouldn’t the Chief Executive of a Council and a Local Government Ombudsman be operating in an open, honest and transparent manner? Just what is Mrs Seex frightened of? At least this experience adds further evidence to my argument that the original principles of a Local Government Ombudsman have been seriously diluted by a constant influx of ex Council staff over the last twenty years or so.
Can you imagine what the police force would be like if the majority of senior staff were recruited from the very people they were supposed to be investigating for wrongdoings?
A council spokesperson is on record stating that delay when handling a complaint is advantageous to them. As a result many complainants are already exhausted by the council’s internal complaints procedure before they even take their complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman. So any additional delay introduced by the Local Government Ombudsman is just plain wrong and unfair.
However, the Local Government Ombudsman routinely uses delay as a tactic to block or at least significantly delay valid complaints of maladministration.The Ombudsman uses a number of different methods to ensure that the complainant is exhausted by the complaints procedure before they have exhausted the complaints procedure.
There are exceptions to the rule. Many people, such as the Balchins have the tenacity to persevere and eventually obtain the justice they so richly deserve.One of my favourite arguments is how can the Local Government Ombudsman claim be effective if it takes years for them to resolve a complaint. Hundreds if not thousands of complainants just give up every year adding to the substantial number of valid complaints that unfortunately bite the dust.Here are just a few of the ways the Local Government Ombudsman introduce unnecessary delay into their proceedings.
There are many more but the following should at least provide an illustration of the depths An Ombudsman will sink in order to help their friends and ex colleagues in the council. They just ignore your correspondence altogether.
Altogether this ploy has been used on me three times over the last 9 years. During 2002 I had to re submit a second copy of a complaint in order to get their attention. They admitted that they had received my earlier correspondence and although I received an apology for their failure to respond I never received an explanation.They ask for information that they already have in their possession. This has happened to me on a number of occasions over the last 9 years.
Following submission of my second complaint they asked for information that was already included in my correspondence on at least three occasions. They unnecessarily ask for clarification. This has happened to me on a number of occasions over the last 9 years. They often seek clarification on points that a five year old would be able to understand. This puts the complainant to the time and trouble of providing further explanation.
This is one of the tactics used by the Ombudsman when they can’t answer a question. To overcome the problem they just find fault in the way the question has been asked. They will often suggest that you have not been civil or that you have been rude.
Other alternatives are to suggest that you have implied that they are corrupt, biased or have colluded with the council. However, all this is just a smoke screen to put you on the defensive and hide the fact that they can’t answer your question.
The Ombudsman’s use of the 'attack is the best form of defence' tactic does at least prove that you are on the right track and that you have them on the back foot. Furthermore, the more fanatical their attack on you the more worried they are about your questions.
Or in reality just a poacher turning a blind eye to their ex colleagues nocturnal activities?Can you imagine what the police force would be like if the majority of senior staff were recruited from the very people they were supposed to be investigating for wrongdoings? Well that is exactly what has happened with the Local Government Ombudsman’s organisation. All three of the English Local Government Ombudsmen are ex Council Chief Executive Officers. Many of their senior staff are also ex Council.
One of the main arguments in defence of this ludicrous situation is that the Local Government Ombudsman needs experience and insight into the organisations that they have to investigate. However, if you extrapolate that argument only murderers could catch murderers and only poachers could catch poachers. I doubt an investigator working in the CID or a Gamekeeper would subscribe to that theory. Will the Government be replacing Sir Ian Blair with an Eastern Block gang leader in their fight against crime? Will the next prison chief be an ex inmate?
Further evidence of the Local Government Ombudsman’s true allegiance can be found by analysing their statistics. In reality nearly 30% of all complaints are as a result of maladministration yet only 1.6% of all complaints are reported as such. The other 28% are listed as local settlements. This is a dubious practice, introduced after the Councils effectively took control of the Local Government Ombudsman’s organisation, to hide the true level of maladministration. As a result there is now no deterrent to discourage maladministration. In reality the policies of the current Ombudsmen positively encourage councils to maladminister.
Firstly, there is every chance that they will get away with maladministration because not everyone complains. Secondly, one way or another, the Ombudsman will help them bury the majority of complaints submitted to them (98.4%) and thirdly, even in the unlikely event of the Ombudsman actually finding them guilty of maladministration (1.6%) the council can just ignore it.
My case is an example of that scenario. I would estimate that in less than 1% of all cases does a Council provide a remedy following an Ombudsman’s report. (This is estimated because even the Ombudsman does not keep a record.) At worse there may be a few lines in a local newspaper outlining the case. Even the script writers working on Monty Python would have turned the idea down as being too surreal.
This is one of the tactics used by the Ombudsman when they can’t answer a question.The Ombudsman will often suggest that your question is an unnecessary diversion from their attempts to resolve your complaint and they can’t afford to spend the time answering your questions. Sometimes the Ombudsman will even threaten to terminate your complaint if you persist in asking questions. This is their version of the old carrot and stick approach. Do as I say and I will investigate your complaint cause me trouble and I won’t, which just about sums up the integrity of the Ombudsmen.
This is another tactics used by the Ombudsmen when they can’t answer a question. They threaten to ignore future correspondence. What usually happens is that the Investigator or Assistant Ombudsman involved will often threaten to advise them Ombudsman to stop answering your correspondence if you persist in asking questions that they can’t answer.The Ombudsmen also often use this tactic. They just stop answering your letters if they don’t like the questions.
My argument has always been the same, why don’t they just do their job and resolve complaints in a reasonable time in the first place? Ironically if they did that there would be no questions they couldn’t answer.
"The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem." Milton Friedman The Government introduced the Local Government Ombudsman in 1974 to remedy injustice caused by local authority maladministration. However, I have suffered more maladministration at the hands of the Ombudsman than at the hands of a council. So it would appear that Milton Friedman is correct.
Once more round the mulberry bush. This is a very versatile tactic and is used when the Local Government Ombudsmen run out of other ways to block your complaint, adverse publicity or Judicial Reviews.They offer to review or look at your complaint again, this usually involves other members of staff getting involved forcing you to start at the beginning again. Even worse, whilst you are going round the mulberry bush for the second (or third) time they even try to use the same devious tricks they used the first time. This has happened to me just recently, I couldn’t believe it when the Assistant Ombudsman who was asked to review my case tried to use the same old tactics that the previous Assistant Ombudsman had already used.
In the Balchins case they used the ‘once more round the mulberry bush’ tactic to hide the fact that they were the cause of 14 years of suffering by Mr and Mrs Balchin. In other cases they frequently use the mulberry bush offer to block/derail Judicial Reviews.
The Local Government Ombudsman is a member of the International Ombudsman Institute. Their membership criteria state a public institution whether titled Ombudsman, Mediator, Parliamentary Commissioner, People's Defender, Human Rights Commission, Public Complaints Commission, Inspector General of Government, Public Protector or like designation, shall be eligible to become an Institutional member provided it exercises fully the following functions and meets the following criteria:
One of the criteria is to protect any person or body of persons against maladministration, violation of rights, unfairness, abuse, corruption, or any injustice caused by a public authority; Therefore, as a member the LGO is expected to exercise FULLY its role to protect any person against ANY INJUSTICE caused by a public authority.The criteria clearly states FULLY and ANY INJUSTICE, there are no qualifying words such as significant/material.
The Local Government Ombudsman's comeback procedure states: The term comeback is used when a complaint has been determined without a formal report and the complainant alleges that one or more of the following apply:
If the complainant meets any one of the stated criteria, the initial decision not to investigate their complaint should be properly reviewed by a senior officer.
I submitted a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman during 2002. Following a secret telephone call with the County Council the Ombudsman refused to investigate my complaint. They refused and continue to refuse to let me see, let alone comment on, the the County Council's response. This is what Justice Sedley had to say on the matter during R v London Borough of Camden ex parte Paddock (1995) “The principle that a decision making body should not see relevant to giving those affected the chance to comment on it and if they wish, to contravert it is fundamental to the principle of law (which governs public administration as much as it does adjudication) that to act in good faith and listen fairly to both sides is the duty lying upon everyone who decides anything.”
I have submitted evidence on a number of occasions that the Local Government Ombudsman has refused to look at let alone take into consideration.This is what Lord Justice Muskill has to say on the subject (Greater London Council (1985) He stated, failure properly to marshall the evidence on which the decision should be based, for example, taking into account an immaterial factor or failing to take into account a material factor or failing to take reasonable steps to obtain the relevant information might be make a decision procedurally improper.
This refers to the Local Government Ombudsman's addition of the words Significant/Material to the level of injustice a complainant must suffer before they investigate. The 1974 Local Government Act does not include any such qualifying words. Therefore, the LGO have fettered themselves by the introduction of said qualifying words and are now refusing to do their public duty and investigate complaints of injustice suffered through maladministration. This is what Lord Denning, Master of the Rolls, had to say on the matter in HTV Ltd v Price Commission (1976) “A public body which is entrusted by Parliament with the exercise of powers for the public good cannot fetter itself in the exercise of them. It cannot be estopped from doing its public duty.
The Local Government Ombudsman's powers are derived from the 1974 Local Government Act. The Local Government Ombudsman often ignore the rules of natural justice, however, this is what Lord Russell had to say about Parliament’s intent regarding Acts of parliament in Fairmount Investments Ltd v Secretary of State for the Environment (1976) “... for it is to be implied, unless the contrary appears, that Parliament does not authorise by the Act the exercise of powers in breach of the principles of natural justice, and that Parliament does by the Act require, in particular procedures, compliance with those principles .” So as far as Lord Russell is concerned the LGO should not ignore the rules of natural justice.
I have been waiting 9 years for the Local Government Ombudsman to resolve my complaint. I suppose I shouldn't grumble because Mr and Mrs Balchin had to wait over 15 years. If you know someone who has waited longer please let me know. I will post the record holders in my hall of fame below. Just to clarify the situation, I am talking about the length of time the Ombudsman has been involved not the length of time you have suffered injustice as a result of council maladministration. In the Balchins case this must have been close to 20 years, in my case 16 years.
When one person writes a blog like this, the LGO will tremble but when hundreds write a blog like this, the LGO will crumble. Derived from the words of Spartacus.
If you have suffered injustice at the hands of the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) please put a summary of your case into a blog. It is very easy believe me. Once you have done that let me have your url (blog address) and I will link to your blog. The more evidence we can put in the public domain the better. I am sure the Ombudsmanwatch website will also link to your blog bringing your story to an even wider audience.
Firstly, to start a blog all you need is an e-mail address. You don't even need to own a computer to write a blog, all you need is access to a computer that can connect to the internet. This service is available at most local Libraries. I don't have internet access at home yet I manage. I just use a friends computer and broadband connection.
If you haven’t got an e-mail address you can obtain one online or even use your friends. once you have an e-mail address you are ready to start. Look at the bar across the top of this blog. You will see a 'get your own blog' link. Click on this link and you will be taken to an introductory page.From this page you can access quite a lot of information about blogs, when you are ready all you have to do is click on create an account. This is where your e-mail address comes in. They need to verify your account by sending you an e-mail. You will also need to think of a password, you don't want unauthorised people changing your blog.
Think of a title and description for your blog and decide which template you want to use for your blog. The choice is quite wide but it is easier and quicker just to accept the default choice. You can always change it later if you want.
Once you have decided on a template you are ready to post to your blog. Don't forget you can post as often or as infrequently as you wish. Many people will just want to post their story as a single posting others may want to add information at a regular interval. This blog is an example of a continually updated blog. Remember at any time you can edit any posting you make, adding to it or even deleting it if necessary. Try entering a short post for practice and play with the editor until you get use to all the functions. The main thing to remember is that every time you make any changes you must publish your blog otherwise your changes will not be saved. In addition when you view your blog make sure that you keep refreshing your browser, otherwise you get the computer cache copy which will still be holding the previous copy of your blog.
Best of luck with your blog and please feel free to ask for help, Trevor.
Following the submission of my comeback request an Assistant Ombudsman stated that I did not meet the criteria for comeback. However, he thought I had a good case for a new investigation because the council had misled the Ombudsman. Ironically one of the criteria that allows the Ombudsman to comeback on a complaint is if the council has misled the Ombudsman. (Please refer to my Comeback Procedure posting for more details. Criteria 3) The council has not been telling the true story and evidence of this is provided.)
This is a typical example of the irrationality of the Ombudsman’s office.
You can have comeback on your original complaint if the council misled the Ombudsman but you don’t meet the criteria for comeback so you will have to submit a new complaint because the council misled the Ombudsman. Enough to make your brain hurt? The Ombudsman regularly expose the irrationality of their decisions when trying to rationalise their decisions. More examples will follow.
Statistically speaking, the Ombudsman claims to have dealt with three complaints of mine since 1997, whilst in reality they have failed to resolve one. They even argue that I should submit another ‘new’ (fourth) complaint. When will it end? Just how many statistically resolved complaints does the Ombudsman want to squeeze out of one complaint.
If their statistics show that they have resolved three complaints from me over the last 9 years, when in reality they haven't resolved one, you can understand why the Government, and other casual observers, consider they are doing a good job. If only they knew the truth.
The three English Local Government Ombudsmen handle about 18,000 cases a year. For argument sake let's say they handled 150,000 over the last 9 years. Did they actually resolve 150,000 cases or are the same 50,000 cases just being churned? An extreme example maybe but with no idependant auditing of the Ombudsman's statistics who knows
During the latest BMG survey for the Local Government Ombudsmen (LGO) they tried the old technique of association. Most people will have either played this game or been involved in a training session during which it was used. A common variation is to pick a fruit or vegetable that you feel best describes yourself/someone else.
BMG decided to use cars/mode of transport rather than fruit and vegetables. During their sessions they asked LGO staff what car best describes the service. The answers below provide an interesting insight as well as a little light relief.
LGO senior staff. ‘An elegant old car. Elegance associated with high quality, reliability, very high standards and strong professionalism. But perhaps a little out of date.’ ‘There is a lot under the bonnet that is unused’.There certainly is!
LGO junior staff. ‘A stopping train, it can take a long time as there are quite a few stops and starts along the way and it can take longer than you expect. Our customers might pick the same.’ Even British Rail never took 9 years to reach their destination.Local Government Ombudsmen (LGO) were set up by the Government in 1974. However, many people do not realise that the organisation Justice had a large part to play in the Government of the day's decision to introduce them.
Ombudsmen also have their own association known as the BIOA (British and Irish Ombudsman Association). As with many organisations the BIOA have entry criteria. One of the these being accountability.Legally there is nothing to stop anyone calling themselves an Ombudsman. However, membership of the BOIA is supposed to be limited to those that meet the criteria. Following further research I found that Justice are on record stating that the LGO are not accountable but they should be. Even the LGO have stated that they would like to be accountable. The implication being that they are not yet accountable. So how did they become members of the BOIA? Probably because they are founder members of the association and as with maladministration they don't always practice what they preach.
The International Ombudsman states that the role of the ombudsman is to protect the people against violation of rights, abuse of powers, error, negligence, unfair decisions and maladministration in order to improve public administration and make the government's actions more open and the government and its servants more accountable to members of the public. I wonder why our Local Government Ombudsmen don't do that? Why do ours spend most of their time, effort and resources trying to bury maladministration? Why do ours feel they need to hide the truth about the reality of the situation?
The 1974 Local Government Act gives the Ombudsmen the discretionary power to terminate an investigation at any time. LG ACT 1974, PART III Section 26 (10) In determining whether to initiate, continue or discontinue an investigation, a Local Commissioner shall, subject to the preceding provisions of this section, act at discretion; and any question whether a complaint is duly made under this Part of this Act shall be determined by the Local Commissioner. Should the Ombudsman conduct an investigation the Act also states they should produce a report.LG ACT 1974, PART III Section 30 (1) In any case where a Local Commissioner conducts an investigation, or decides not to conduct an investigation, he shall send a report of the results of the investigation, or as the case may be a statement of his reasons for not conducting an investigation-
If in the opinion of the Ombudsman injustice has been caused in the consequence of maladministration the report shall be laid before the authority. LG ACT 1974, PART III Section 31 (1) (1) If in the opinion of the Local Commissioner, as set out in the report, injustice has been caused to the person aggrieved in consequence of maladministration, the report shall be laid before the authority concerned, and it shall be the duty of that authority to consider the report, and to notify the Local Commissioner of the action which the authority have taken, or propose to take.
However, the Ombudsmen often go back in time to deviously extend their statutory powers. Once it has been decided that injustice has been caused by maladministration the investigation is over. The Ombudsman should send a report of the results of the investigation (Section 30 (1) and the report should be laid before the authority concerned Section 31 (1). However, in the magical world of the Local Government Ombudsman anything is possible. As soon as they identify that injustice has been caused because of maladministration they immediately energise their time travel machine. Firstly they use the words ‘administrative fault’ as a euphemism for maladministration. Then if the authority concerned decide they want the finding of maladministration buried by their ex colleagues they offer to ‘locally settle’ the case.
When that happens the Ombudsmen immediately travel back in time and terminate the investigation using the discretionary power conferred to them under Section 26 (10). Then they issue a report stating that they have used their discretionary powers to terminate the investigation because the authority has offered a ‘local Settlement’. As a result the authorities maladministration continues to be called 'administrative fault' and the truth is buried forever as a 'local settlement'.
Surely the investigation ended when they found ‘administrative fault’ otherwise the Ombudsman would be guilty of reaching a premature conclusion. So two questions remain, how do they terminate something that has already ended and why would the authority want to settle unless the Ombudsman found maladministration?
Should the authority refuse to settle the case the Ombudsmen switch off the time travel machine and call the ‘administrative fault’ they found by its true name, maladministration. Then they issue a report and lay it before the authority concerned.
It is obvious that Local Government Ombudsmen are using this devious time travel tactic to extend their statutory powers so they could introduce ‘local settlements’. The 1974 Local Government Act only gives the Ombudsmen the statutory power to investigate cases it does not give them any express or implied powers to introduce, let alone accept, 'local settlements' as a means of terminating an investigation.'Local Settlements' should not be confused with normal settlements. 'Local settlements' do not need the agreement of the complainant that normal settlements would. The Ombudsman agree the local settlement with the council, something they would not be able to do with a normal settlement.
There was an article in the Guardian newspaper today,The article has a quote from the Ombudsman’s office stating, "The whole idea of the remedies is that they are trying to put people back in the position they were in before something happened," a spokeswoman says. "So it is not necessarily only about money." No mention of the fact that the councils can, and often do, ignore the ombudsman’s suggested remedy with impunity. In any event, as far as a complainant is concerned is very rarely about the money, it is about justice, the authority concerned being held accountable for the wrongs they have inflicted on a member of their community.
If Mrs Seex believes that a memorial puts the family back in the position they were before the council’s act of maladministration, God help us all.
It’s funny how the Ombudsman goes to great lengths to publicise the cases in which they find maladministration (1.6% of all cases) but fails to mention or publicise the other 98.4 % of cases.
Furthermore, what about the councils that ignore the ombudsman’s suggested remedy. Do they ever check to see that the remedy has been provided within a reasonable time, no, and neither do they care.
A neighbour and I are still waiting for a remedy the Ombudsman suggested to the council in 1998 when they found that we had suffered injustice as a result of maladministration. Even though the ombudsman is aware that the council has failed to provide the remedy they have done nothing about the ongoing injustice. I just hope the family concerned don’t have to wait 8 years for their memorial.
An extract from a paper on Natural Justice and Procedural Fairness is shown below.
Foremost rules of procedural fairness required by these primary rules in the resolution of disputes, grievances and complaints. One of those rules beingGive each party the opportunity to correct or contradict any statement prejudicial to their case.<.p>
The Ombudsman refused to investigate a complaint I submitted in 2002 following a statement given to an Assistant Ombudsman by a County Council solicitor on the telephone. I have never been given the opportunity to correct or contradict that statement, yet if was obviously prejudicial to my case because the Assistant Ombudsman used that as the sole reason for terminating my complaint.
Following the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act I tried again to obtain the information I was entitled to under the laws of natural justice. The Ombudsman again refused to let me see, let alone comment upon, the County Council’s statement that so prejudiced my case.
However, the Ombudsman still advertises the fact that they are Fair and Impartial. Just a pity they only advertise the fact and don’t put it into practice.
The purpose of this posting is to illustrate that many of the Local Government Ombudsman's (LGO) decisions are unlawful because they have misused their discretionary powers. The Local Government Act 1974 gave the LGO a statutory discretion whether or not to initiate or terminate a complaint of maladministration. The reasons why the LGO needs discretion is obvious and numerous and I have no argument with that providing the LGO exercise this legally, fairly and for the right reasons.
What is discretion? One dictionary defines discretion as, ‘the power of a judge or public official to make decisions on various matters based on his/her opinion within general legal guidelines.’
How does the law interpret discretion. Public bodies, including the LGO, must correctly understand and apply the law, including the Human Rights Act, that regulates their decision making powers. Furthermore, an action or decision may be unlawful if the decision maker had no power to make it or exceeded the powers given to him/her. The LGO’s discretion must be used within their express statutory authority.
It is a general maxim of the law that a statutory body cannot extend their statutory powers through the use of discretionary powers.
In addition public bodies also have to be fair. This deals with the process for reaching an unbiased decision and includes the right to a fair hearing. The courts have also recently extended the idea of fairness to prevent abuses of power where public bodies have sought to go back, without sufficient justification, on promises made (called 'legitimate expectations').
When do the LGO misuse their discretionary power? The LGO misuse their discretionary powers for a number of reasons but none so blatantly offensive than their discretionary use of ‘local settlements'. I believe this is an unlawful exercise of their discretionary power. Therefore, I have decided to focus on that to illustrate my arguments. The 1974 Local Government Act gives the LGO no express statutory power to implement or use ‘local settlements’. In fact it makes no mention of ‘local settlement’ or settlement at all. When challenged the LGO states that their discretionary power gives them the authority to implement and use ‘local settlements’. I believe this is wrong for a number of reasons. Firstly, The 1974 Act gives the LGO the express statutory authority to investigate a complaint about injustice caused by maladministration. In addition the 1974 Act also gives the LGO the statutory discretion to investigate or not investigate as they see fit. and to terminate an investigation for any reason.
With such wide discretionary powers, it would appear, superficially at least, that their assertions that ‘their discretionary powers give them the statutory power to use ‘local settlements’ would be difficult to disprove.
However, when you start to look a little deeper you realise that their assertions are just an illusion. They have and have never had the authority, discretionary or otherwise to implement and use ‘local settlements’.
There is no argument that the LGO have the right to terminate an investigation for any reason. In fact I can think of numerous reasons why they would need such a discretionary power. The two parties may have mutually agreed to settle, making the investigation somewhat redundant. It may become obvious during an investigation that the complaint was malicious or vexatious. The public authority may hold their hand up and admit their guilt, again making the investigation somewhat redundant. The list goes on and on.
However, the LGO also terminate an investigation because of what they deviously call a ‘local settlement. The point I want to make here is that a ‘local settlement’ is agreed between the LGO and the Council, the complainant has no say in the matter. So in essence the LGO are creating the reason for terminating an investigation.
My first argument is quite simple, the 1974 Local Government Act gives the LGO the statutory discretion to terminate an investigation for any reason but it does not give them the discretionary power to create a reason for terminating an investigation. It would be a different matter if the Council and the Complainant agreed to settle the case. Therefore, by creating the reason for terminating an investigation they have exceeded their statutory powers. Remember what I stated earlier, an action or decision may be unlawful if the decision maker had no power to make it or exceeded the powers given to him/her.
Now lets turn to fairness. The Council can agree to a ‘local settlement’ or not, however, the complainant has no say in the matter. If the LGO says so they must accept the termination of their complaint through a local settlement.
My second argument is about the unfairness of the discretionary use of ‘local settlements’. The courts have recently extended the idea of fairness to prevent abuses of power where public bodies have sought to go back, without sufficient justification, on promises made (called 'legitimate expectations'). The 1974 Local Government Act states that the LGO can investigate a complaint about injustice caused by maladministration, so I can well understand a complainant having the ‘legitimate expectation’ that the LGO will do exactly that.
The 1974 Local Government Act also give the LGO the discretion to terminate a complainant so I can well understand a complainant having the ‘legitimate expectation’ that their complaint may be terminated.
However, nowhere in the 1974 Local Government Act does it state or imply that the LGO may create the reason for terminating an investigation. In essence, the complainant expects one thing and the LGO give them another.
My third argument is about the LGO fettering their discretion. The LGO has a discretionary comeback procedure. Essentially this states that if no report has been issued and one of the comeback criteria is met than the LGO can comeback on a complaint. The problem is that the LGO and Council agree a settlement. That saves the LGO the time and trouble of investigating and as a result no report is issued. However, that leaves the complainant free to request comeback on their complaint. So my argument is straight forward, the use of ‘local settlements’ must fetter the LGO discretion when it comes to Comeback.
If a complaint has been ‘locally settled’ how can the LGO comeback on the complaint. The answer is they can’t. They have made a deal with the Council so they cannot comeback on a complaint they have settled. However, they did not settle it with the complainant so the complainant is free to request comeback. A conundrum the LGO overcomes by fettering the use of their discretionary power regarding comeback on a complaint.
One of the original problems facing the Local Government Ombudsmen was what to do if a Council refused to provide a remedy for maladministration. The Council have always been able to ignore the Ombudsman and the best that the Ombudsman could do was to issue another report.
Over the years the Ombudsmen could have asked the Government to make their findings enforceable in law, however, they chose instead to develop a devious strategy to ensure that the majority of Councils accept their findings.
They just make it easier for a Council to accept their findings than the alternative. Unfortunately, when the only alternative is the threat of a second report it doesn’t leave a lot of manoeuvring room to make their findings more palatable than that.
That’s why an Ombudsman’s award, for a complainant suffering injustice through maladministration, is on average only about £500. Probably a lot less than the cost to the council of publishing a second report.
Can you imagine the uproar if a Judge had to negotiate a prison sentence with the guilty party knowing that they could ignore the sentence if they didn’t like it. That would put the Judge in an impossible position to pass an appropriate sentence. Prison sentences would drop from years to hours overnight.
Can you imagine the uproar if a Traffic warden had to negotiate the price of a parking ticket with the offending party, knowing that they could ignore the ticket if they didn’t like it. Parking fines would drop from £40 to 20p overnight.
Many people suggest that the Ombudsman’s findings should be made mandatory. My question is, why haven’t the Ombudsman asked the Government to give them the statutory powers they need to be effective? They have had the last thirty years to do so. Obviously they must prefer to be toothless tigers.
Now who's the sucker!
Many people are of the opinion that the system operated by the Local Government Ombudsman could be improved by the Government making small changes to the system.
However, my arguments is that people, not systems, make systems work.
As one example, the Ombudsmen usually suggest that the 1974 Local Authority Act gave them the discretion that allows them to introduce Local Settlements. Whether that is true or not is irrelevant to my argument because even if the Act gave them the discretion they suggest, it still only unlocked the door. The Ombudsmen still had a choice in the matter. They made the decision to go through the door and introduce local settlements. It had nothing to do with the system or the 1974 Local Government Act.
In essence the Ombudsman found a loophole and exploited it by introducing local settlements for the benefit of everyone bar the complainant. The Ombudsmen win because they can terminate cases without having to do much work, the Councils love it because they can hide from the reality of their maladministration and it suits the Government because it keeps costs down and hides the fact that there are serious problems within Local Government.
The point is that no system is perfect and some people will, if they want to, always find a loophole that allows them to exploit the system for their own ends. So yes Government could close the odd loophole by tinkering with the system but whilst the culture within the Ombudsman’s organisation remains the same nothing will really change.
Furthermore, the system worked reasonably well in the early days, it is only over the last 15 years that Local Government Ombudsmen have exploited loopholes in the system for the benefit of themselves and their colleagues in Government. (Local and National).
Looking at another example, just because the system didn’t make Local Government Ombudsmen accountable doesn’t mean that they have to exploit the fact to ruin peoples lives. They had a choice. Just because you can get away with it doesn’t mean you have to do it.
The same can be said about the Council’s freedom to ignore the Ombudsman’s findings, that could be classed as a system deficiency, however, the Ombudsmen could, if they had wanted to, done something about it years ago. The point is they didn’t.
That brings me back to my argument, it’s people that make systems work, people that exploit systems and people that make systems fail.
An investigator working for the Local
Government Ombudsman stated
‘The remedy that was offered to you at the end of that report was not exactly what she wanted she felt it was reduced by the Ombudsman. I mean it was outside ****’s powers completely but she felt that the remedy was not satisfactory’
(**** I removed the name of the individual)
Now we know that the Ombudsmen dilute the remedies suggested by investigators to make them more palatable for their friends in the Council.
A quote from an investigator working for
the Local Government Ombudsman.
‘I have to smile actually that some of the criticisms that Mr Nunn makes, he has obviously researched our procedures, some of the criticisms he makes actually make me smile because they are criticisms that I have made internally myself.’
During 2005 an investigator working for the Local Government Ombudsman stated '.....the council wrote back and actually informed Mrs Thomas's decision that there was no more for her.’
During 2005 an investigator working for the Local Government
Ombudsman stated to me
‘…this is the rub, when it is registered as a re launched comeback on our computer systems, it opens up the whole field of the complaint now your initial complaint and I’ve got the file here, I don’t have the original file but I think the report was dated 97 but your original complaint came in 1997 and that would have the effect of looking, as far as our statistics are concerned, which I always find terribly tedious, but we’ve got to have all these returns for the government, we have certain targets one of which is that we have to discontinue investigations, or 98 percent of investigations within a year, your investigation would look as though it had been ongoing for about 7 years wouldn’t it’ [ME "well it has"] ‘it has, it absolutely has …… one complaint effectively that distorts all of your figures, because it is so much longer than all the others you know it pulls your general averages down,’
[Yet another reason why they won’t comeback on a complaint, it pulls their averages down]
'Well the, the horrible thing about statistics, about the government’s targets, and I’ve seen this in other area’s apart from the Ombudsman office, and it’s true in the prison service, it’s true in all of the public services, that the work is skewed to meet the statistics. (My emphasis)
They do I think influence decisions that you make, they influence the daily lives of investigators, without a doubt'
Now we know why they won’t comeback on complaints and prefer instead to register them as new complaints. That devious ‘skewing’ tactic generates two positive ticks on their stats instead of one negative tick because they had to comeback on a bad decision.
An investigator working for the Local
Government Ombudsman stated
‘I think there is a short coming sometimes in just the way our system works and that there is a tendency often not to…I mean well I have been criticised myself by… the Ombudsman in the past for giving too detailed reasons to complainants because that can be a hostage to fortune and indeed it can.’
Now we know why they don’t give adequate reasons to support their decisions. As one Judge put it, the failure to give adequate reasoning in support of a decision is a de facto denial of a Judicial Review.
The Honourable Mr Justice Lightman gave a lecture during March 2001. Although
his lecture was essentially about the Pensions Ombudsman many of the issues he
addressed embrace all Ombudsmen.
'The European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act give greater significance and attention to the legal process and its adequacy to afford a fair trial. It is the duty of the State to provide such a process: it is no longer sufficient to require the public to make do with a procedure which falls short but affords something better than nothing. There are serious questions whether proceedings before the Ombudsman meet the requirements satisfactorily;'
'..the existing judicial jurisdiction of the Ombudsman raises serious questions regarding compliance with the Human Rights Act and (for this and other reasons) should be transferred to a tribunal; and that the constitution of the tribunal should be such that as to make available all necessary expertise not present in proceedings before the Ombudsman...'
Five years later and the Government has still not done anything about it!
The Honourable Mr Justice Lightman gave a lecture during March
2001. Although his lecture was essentially about the Pensions Ombudsman many of
the issues he addressed also embrace the Local Government Ombudsmen.
'the Ombudsman clearly has his own evangelical agenda which he takes his every opportunity to take a high profile stance to propagate not least through his lectures and Annual reports. As is clear from the quotations from his statements which I have already made, he respects none of the constraints to be expected of a judicial officer respecting decisions made by superior courts, but conducts campaigns in furtherance of his ideas casting ridicule on those members of the judiciary who have the temerity to disagree with him. Respectfully I would venture the comment: few postures are so unbecoming as a judge whatever his level in the judicial hierarchy for ever in the missionary position. This must give him the appearance of being, if he is not thereby constituted, an interested party in his own decisions. The obviation of this cloud must be a further factor favouring transferring the adjudicatory role to a Tribunal.'
The Local Government Ombudsmen also have their own evangelical agenda,
Extracts from the Local Government Ombudsman corporate plan 2006 to 2009, Maximise positive publicity............prompt response to negative publicity. Conducting a campaign in furtherance of their ideas?
In essence they carefully select the few complaints which they believe will enhance their reputation, here are a few examples. 1 2 3 4, whilst burying the other 99% of complaints submitted to them.
During 2005 an Investigator working for the
Local Government Ombudsman stated
‘You know honestly in my years at the commission I have never come across another situation like this. That is why I have had to go and look to find out exactly why we have held the line on not issuing it as a re launched comeback. Because I have been arguing I can’t see the logic of why we are doing this.’
No, neither could I, however, it is now 2006 and the Ombudsman still refuses to comeback on my complaint!
During 2005 an investigator working for the
Local Government Ombudsman stated
‘..when you comeback on an investigation you say you think the outcome is unsatisfactory it is looked at again but very briefly by a Deputy and by the Ombudsman and although Mrs Thomas will amend letters and may spot something that has been missed by and large she will look to a summary which has been prepared by the initial investigating officer.’...‘…it’s a paper exercise and inevitably they are going to draw on their comments the opinions.’
So the investigator, who took the initial decision not to investigate your complaint, is solely responsible for preparing the summary that the Ombudsman uses to decide whether the investigators decision was flawed. At least we now know why comebacks are so rare.
The same investigator also stated
‘You do raise a very valid point that when you came back in the spring of 2002 you did bring new information and it should have generated a new inquiry.’
‘I don’t quite understand why we did not re open the investigation in 2002’
Neither do I, and four years later the Ombudsman still refuses to answer that very question.
Although the Ombudsman refuses to answer my questions the investigator stated at the time,
‘I am concerned here that you’re at the risk of being disadvantaged through not being given reasons to which I actually think your entitled’>
How true, the problem is that we have an Ombudsman who is not the least bit interested in procedural fairness, natural justice or the rights of the individual. All they are interested in is burying maladministration for their friends and ex colleagues in local government.
During 2005 an Investigator working for the Local Government
‘..they’ve introduced this performance related pay; it came in for the first time last year and the investigators, I have to say we said it would influence the decision making process. We were not listened to. I mean that’s the top and bottom of it. But you know it has inevitably; I mean the government accepts that it has. But it was accepted that the upside is greater than that marginal downside, I think it’s a fact of life with which we all have to live nowadays…’
Now we know why decisions are rushed and they don’t like comebacks.
‘Marginal downside’, just a few hundred lives ruined because the system now allows investigators without integrity to make more money by reaching a quick decision rather than investigating a complaint properly.
‘I think it’s a fact of life with which we all have to live nowadays’ they live with their bonus, the government lives with a greater throughput of cases, the councils live with fewer findings of maladministration whilst the poor old complainant has to live with the suffering that it causes, very equitable.
A win, win, win, stuff the complainant fact of life? All thanks to the Ombudsman.
Bob Draper an investigator working for the Coventry office of the Local
Government Ombudsman is responsible for writing an article called ‘The work of
In the article he makes the following statement
‘Complainants and Councils have an opportunity to comment on information which will be relied upon to reach a decision and have their comments taken into account.’
However, an Assistant Ombudsman terminated my 2002 complaint based on a private telephone call he had with the Council. I have never been told what was said or given the opportunity to comment on the information that the Assistant Ombudsman used when he reached the decision not to investigate my complaint.
Question to the Ombudsman, did the Assistant Ombudsman fail to follow procedure or is Bob Draper’s statement untrue? One of them is guilty of maladministration, which one and what do you propose to do about it?
During my fight for justice I attempted to
enlist the help of my MP. Initially he showed great interest (around election
time) but quickly grew tired and just gave up suggesting that there was nothing
more he could do (after he had been re elected).
I was very disappointed that an elected representative could not help one of his constituents who was suffering significant injustice as a result of the maladministration of an unaccountable none elected public authority.
If MPs aren’t interested in protected their constituents from injustice caused by unaccountable and none elected authority then who is? MPs collectively gave these unaccountable authorities the statutory power to ruin peoples lives, so you would think they could remove those powers when they are being abused.
As a result, with a few exceptions, I now have no time for MPs. There is, however, one MP who I consider an exception to the rule and that’s the MP who supported the Balchins during their long fight for justice. Just a pity MPs of that calibre are so few and far between.
In response to my assertion that Ombudsmen
double count complaint comebacks to improve their statistics I received an
e-mail that included the following statement,
‘If a complaint is reopened after a comeback then it is indeed given a separate reference number but there is a very clear instruction (which is complied with) that only one complaint will count for statistical purposes. In other words there is no double counting.’
However, in the letter they sent the Council, regarding the same matter, it clearly states,
‘The Commission will include this in the published figures for the year ending 31 March 2006. We will record the decision as: Insufficient evidence of maladministration.’
Unequivocal evidence that they double count complaint comebacks to improve their statistics no matter what they say.
This post attempts to
explore the murky world of Local Settlements.
Ombudsmanwatch supporters are already aware that the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) uses a number of highly dubious methods to significantly reduce the chance of a local authority ever being found guilty of maladministration in the first place. Although these methods block over 70% of complaints, some 28% of complaints still manage find there way through leaving the LGO with little choice but to make a finding of maladministration.
Therefore, what the LGO, and Local Authorities, needed was another way to further reduce the number of cases of maladministration they have to publicly report.
To understand how the LGO and Local Authorities pull off this trick one must enter the magical world of the LGO.
When is a finding of maladministration not a finding of maladministration; when it’s a ‘local settlement’ of course.
The local settlement illusion allows Local Authorities to reduce the number of findings of maladministration against them by a factor of about 18. All a Local Authority has to do to block a finding of maladministration is to offer a local settlement and the LGO, like all good magicians, will magically make the finding of maladministration disappear.
The LGO changes their definition of ‘local settlements’ on a regular basis. This makes it more difficult for people to realise they are being conned or to do anything about it when they do. It is very difficult to argue against a ‘local settlement’ because the definition you think you are arguing against will suddenly change. In essence the LGO manipulate the definition of words such as ‘local settlement’, ‘maladministration’, ‘significant’ and ‘material’ to suit their own ends, hence their fear of the Government introducing statutory definitions.
However I believe the LGO has no express or implied statutory power to implement Local Settlements and this article sets out to prove my point. If I am right they are illegal and the LGO’s actions are ultra vires – ‘beyond the legal power or authority of a person or official or body’ and as a result the LGO is guilty of malfeasance ‘Misconduct or wrongdoing, especially by a public official.’
To illustrate my arguments it is essential to start by identifying the relevant parts of the Local Government Act, which gives the LGO their statutory powers. Please note without statutory powers the LGO would have no more power than a member of the general public.
The 1974 Local Government Act established the Local Government Ombudsman. Section 26 (1) expressly gives the LGO the power to investigate a complaint. stating ‘Subject to the provisions of this Part of this Act where a written complaint is made by or on behalf of a member of the public who claims to have sustained injustice in consequence of maladministration in connection with action taken by or on behalf of an authority to which this Part of this Act applies, being action taken in the exercise of administrative functions of that authority, a Local Commissioner may investigate that complaint.’
Whilst section 26 (10) expressly gives the LGO discretion regarding investigations. In determining whether to initiate, continue or discontinue an investigation, a Local Commissioner shall, subject to the preceding provisions of this section, act at discretion; and any question whether a complaint is duly made under this Part of this Act shall be determined by the Local Commissioner.
At the outset I accept that section 26 (1) and (10) expressly and clearly give the LGO the discretionary power to investigate a complaint. That is not at issue. What is at issue are the following points.
Argument number 1. Reading the relevant parts of the 1974 Local Government Act in full, you will discover a number of sections devoted to investigations and a number of sections devoted to reports. Interestingly you will find no section devoted to local settlements.
Therefore there is clearly no express provision for Local Settlements within the act. Leaving the LGO relying on an implied provision to support their use of Local Settlements.
However, the word investigation occurs some 42 times and the word report occurs some 39 times whilst the word ‘settlement’ does not occur at all, making it very difficult to argue that the LGO has the implied power use Local Settlements.
Argument number 2. Over the last few years we have seen a gradual move towards a unified Public Ombudsman services. Whilst the English LGO still labours under the old 1974 Local Government Act, Scotland and Wales have already introduced a new unified Public Ombudsman systems. In the Welsh Ombudsman Act of 2005 the Welsh Ombudsman has expressly been given a new and additional statutory power,
Alternative resolution of complaints
(1) The Ombudsman may take any action he thinks appropriate with a view to resolving a complaint which he has power to investigate under section 2.
(2) The Ombudsman may take action under this section in addition to or instead of conducting an investigation into the complaint.
(3) Any action under this section must be taken in private.
If the LGO for Wales already had the power to locally settle a complaint why do they need this new express power to resolve a complaint. Could it be because the LGO for Wales like the LGO for England never had the power to locally settle a complaint and the Government is attempting to plug this legal loophole?
If so then the English LGO have not yet been given this additional power and are, therefore, acting illegally every time they resolve a complaint with a Local Settlement.
Argument number 3. A settlement is a popular method of ending a civil court case. The legal definition to a settlement being the resolution of a dispute prior to the rendering of a final decision by the trial court . The two parties can agree to settle the case at any time, until of course the Judge finds in favour of one party or the other. In fact the majority of civil cases are settled out of court to save the time, trouble, expense and risk of proceeding with court action. In essence a settlement is an agreement between the two parties. In most cases this involves the defence making an offer the plaintiff can’t refuse resulting in the case being dropped before judgement is delivered.
Clearly settlements have major benefits for both parties and the courts. If settlements have benefits for all parties involved why are LGO Local Settlements so wrong. The answer to that is because they are not really settlements as most people understand them at all. They are a settlement between the Local Authority and the LGO, the complainant has no say in the matter.
This brings us back to the magical world of the LGO. There is no point in the LGO telling the truth and stating that they have decided to hide a finding of maladministration for the benefit of a Local Authority, what they need is the illusion that the case has been settled in advance of them finding maladministration.
How does the LGO give the illusion a case has been locally settled, easy they just say so.
Anyone could be mistaken for assuming this meant that the case had been resolved to the satisfaction of the complainant. However, they would be wrong.
Firstly the LGO does not use the word settlement in isolation they nearly always use the term ‘local settlement’ However, there is no legal definition of ‘local settlement’. Therefore we must look at the two words in isolation. Legally the normal literal rule is applied to the definition of words.
The terms Government and Local Government are a clear example of the normal use of the word local. However, I believe the LGO wrongly uses the word ‘local’ to imply that the complaint was settled locally by both parties. In reality, however, many cases are settled at the request of the Local Authority and with the agreement of the LGO without the agreement of the complainant. In those circumstances that makes the use of the word ‘local’ wholly erroneous and misleading. The LGO can hardly be termed a local organisation.
Argument number 4. The Local Government Ombudsman have a comeback procedure that allows them to investigate a complaint, that they had previously refused to investigate, should any one of four criteria be met. The comeback procedure not available if the Ombudsman has already produced a report on the matter.
However, when the Ombudsman and the Council locally settle a case without the agreement of the complainant they don’t usually issue a report. That means that the complainant is technically free to request comeback on a case that, as far as the Ombudsman and the Council are concerned, has been settled. If a normal all party settlement had been reached that would clearly be impossible. The fact that it is technically possible with a local settlement provides evidence that they are just a dubious device to bury maladministration rather than fully and finally settle a complaint.
Congratulations to ex Local Government Ombudsman Mrs P Thomas. Recently retired she has just been awarded an OBE (or a CBE) for her services to Local Government. One newspaper suggests it is an OBE whilst another suggests it is a CBE. 'Services to Local Government.' Must be a euphemism for burying complaints about Local Government maladministration.
Local Government Ombudsmen have introduced numerous flawed
policies over the years. The reason they did this was to reduce the perceived
level of maladministration by Local Authorities. In the short term this
perverse strategy has helped the Government, their ex colleagues in Local
Authorities, and themselves. The only people it didn’t help were members of the
general public who suffered injustice because of Local Authority
However, there is a down side; whilst it is true that this strategy has reduced the perceived level of Local Authority maladministration it has also been responsible for increasing true levels of Local Authority maladministration. Hence the Ombudsman’s continued reliance on the introduction of more and more of these flawed policies.
This all stems from the Ombudsmen’s original decision to take the easy option. It is far easier for the Ombudsman to ignore maladministration than deal with it. However, maladministration is now getting out of hand and the Ombudsmen can no longer bury it fast enough. Furthermore, people like myself are no longer willing to stand idly by whilst the Local Government Ombudsmen terminate their complaints for a variety of ludicrous and unjust reasons.
The irony of the situation is that the Local Government Ombudsmen are guilty of maladministration. Instead of concentrating on doing their job they chose the easy option, initially this just involved looking the other way, however, for the last few years they have actively been burying maladministrationfor their ex colleagues in Local Authorities.
The results of this absurd strategy are now coming home to roost and it's about time the Government to do something about it. Spin and fiddled statistics can no longer hide the truth.
What the Local Government Ombudsmen appeared to have overlooked was the simple fact that their strategy would actually encourage rather than prevent maladministration. The bottom line is if there is now no effective deterrent to curb Local Authorities who attempt to maladminister their way out of their problems. Hence the year on year increase in the true levels of maladministration and the fact that Local Authority maladministration is reaching epidemic proportions. Parallels can be drawn from the police and the judiciary, when they go soft on crime, it increases. It's not rocket science it's just common sense, however, that's something our politicians appear be sadly lacking in these days.
It's a well known fact that no matter how
horrendous the maladministration or how much injustice a complainant has
suffered the Local Government Ombudsman often terminates an investigation
following a quick phone call to the Council. Any Council facing a finding
of maladministration can buy off the Local Government Ombudsman by promising to
pay the complainant a paltry sum. It works out about £540 per
complainant, ironically less than it costs to fund the Ombudsman’s
However, a less well known fact is that the Local Government Ombudsman often refuses to investigate a complaint in the first place following a similar phone call to the Council. The Local Government Ombudsman often accepts whatever they are told by the Council and refuse to investigate a complaint further. This happened in the famous Balchins case during 1991 and mine during 2002.
On both occasions the LGO refused to investigate a valid complaint because they wrongly accepted the word of a Council without validation. Worse still they won’t even look at any evidence that contradicts the assertions of the Council. Most people would consider that as unfair, unjust and just plain wrong. However, the real shock comes when you find that this has in fact been a long standing policy of the Ombudsmen.
Between 1991 and 2002 the Ombudsman has handled in excess of 100,000 complaints. How many other complainants have been the victims of this bizarre and unfair policy? It is high time Local Government Ombudsmen scrapped this flawed policy and started investigating complaints of maladministration properly. If the Local Government Ombudsman refused to investigate your complaint you may well have been a victim of this unfair policy. If you think you are then I suggest that you try to do something about it.
There are a number of options available, you could do one or more of the following, submit a comeback request, submit a new complaint, submit an internal complaint, let your MP know about this unfair policy, publicise the fact that you have suffered as a result of this unfair policy, write a blog about your own experience, write an open letter to the Ombudsmen or submit evidence the next time a select committee (or some other body) investigates the Ombudsmen.
You may even have another way of exposing this bizarre and unfair policy, if you have please let me know.
16 years and counting, Vale Royal Borough Council's initial act of maladministration (Plenty more followed).
9 years and counting, Local Government Ombudsman involved in my complaint.
6 years and counting, Cheshire County Council's initial act of maladministration (Plenty more followed.)
4 years and counting, since I submitted a second complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman.
2 months and counting, since the Ombudsman changed their mind and decided to investigate my second complaint and resolve the problem caused by Vale Royal Borough Council.
A problem that Cheshire County Council has been trying to maladminister their way out of for the last 6 years. Curiously whilst the Ombudsman has also been doing their level best to reject my complaint.
However, when Cheshire County Council finally realise that can't maladminister their way out of the problem, enter stage left the Local Government Ombudsman who now decide they can investigate my complaint after all.
Coincidence or collusion? Is the Ombudsman getting involved to help Cheshire County Council out of their difficulties or are they getting involved because I have suffered injustice through Cheshire County Council’s maladministration?
Only time will tell but it's not looking good so far. They appear more interested in resolving the problem for Cheshire County Council than investigating my complaint. Two months and they still haven't asked the Council for a formal response to the allegations I made during 2002.
The Local Government Ombudsmen are
recruiting a legal assistant to work in London.
The advert includes the following requirement
'preferably have a minimum of 1 year’s experience of working as a legal assistant for a council'
The LGO now appears to be off limits to anyone who hasn't worked for a council. Just what have they got to hide?
The irony of the situation is that the Ombudsman refused to investigate my complaint because a Council solicitor lied to them. No doubt making them an ideal candidate for the job.
First hand experience stuffing complainants for a Council must make the LGO think they are the best kind of people to stuff complainants for them
I was reading the Local Government
Ombudsman's 2006 annual report recently and was interested to read the following
staff are finding a higher proportion of complainants present challenging
behaviours'. I sincerely hope they mean people like me, people who
are no longer prepared to accept the perverse policies and dubious tactics they
have been getting away with for far too long.
I am not prepared to accept an system that; is supposed to be impartial but operate a policy of believing everything a Council says, operates an unfair and unjust internal complaints procedure, is unaccountable, is controlled by ex Council Chief Executive Officers, has ex Council staff in nearly all senior positions, buries rather than confronts maladministration, manipulates statistics to improve public perception of their effectiveness, manipulates procedures to hide poor decisions. If they do mean people like me, then let's hope even more people start to present the Ombudsman's staff with challenging behaviour. The Ombudsman may then have no option but to change the system to one which is fairer to complainants.
When Councils failed to meet their deadlines what did the Ombudsmen do? Did they castigate the Councils and inform the public (and Government) that the majority of Councils were ignoring their deadlines, no they just increased the time they gave the Councils so they could statistically argue that the majority were meeting their deadlines. The tricks the Ombudsmen get up to in order to help their ex colleagues never ceases to amaze me.
On the 30th May 2006 I posted a comment on
the Ombudsman's decision to comeback on my case. Click
here to read that post. During 2002 an Assistant Ombudsman simply
rang up a County Council Solicitor and accepted everything they said without any
sort of validation. The Assistant Ombudsman even refused to tell me what they
had discussed. Evidence to prove the Solicitor was misleading him was available
but he refused to look at it. Even more worrying, however, is the fact that the
Solicitor he talked to was the one I was complaining about. As a result I have
been attempting to get the Ombudsman to comeback on my case since 2002. All
because the Assistant Ombudsman did not adhere to the rules of natural justice
and tried to bury my complaint for benefit of the County Council.
Since May 2006 I have been told that my complaint has now been submitted to the Councils for their formal response. Something that should have happened in 2002 if the Assistant Ombudsman was doing his job properly. To date I am still waiting for the Councils' response. Click here to read my 2002 complaint.
I will post further details when I receive any more news.
The local government ombudsman often
ignores evidence. Oral hearings may be the only way a complainant can stop this
dubious practice. By requesting an oral hearing a complainant would have the
opportunity to put their evidence directly to the ombudsman and question and
validate the other party’s evidence. This might just bring the local government
ombudsman to a grinding halt but that is entirely a problem of their own making.
If they didn’t constantly ignore valid evidence there would be no reason for
complainants to demand an oral hearing.
If you would like to read the full text of my article please click here
The truth is that it costs the taxpayer 7
times more to pay for the Local Government Ombudsman to investigate a valid
complaint than a complainant receives in compensation.
Last year some 4954 complaints were categorised as premature by the Local Government Ombudsman. That’s about 27% of all complaints submitted to them.
As far as the Local Government Ombudsman is concerned the definition of a premature complaint is
‘Premature complaints are those which are not accepted for consideration by the Local Government Ombudsmen because the councils concerned have not had a reasonable opportunity to deal with them first. Premature complaints are sent to the councils concerned with a request that they should investigate them. If a complainant is not satisfied with the outcome of a council’s investigation, he or she can complain to the Ombudsman again.’ (My Emphasis)
In addition a further 2376 complaints were categorised as outside their jurisdiction. That’s about 13% of all complaints. As far as the Local Government Ombudsman is concerned the definition of a complaint outside their jurisdiction is
‘The Ombudsmen can investigate most types of complaints against local authorities. But there are some things the law does not allow them to investigate, such as personnel matters, the internal management of schools and colleges, and matters which affect all or most of the people living in a council’s area. Such complaints, when they are terminated, are described as being outside jurisdiction.’
That means some 40% of complaints were not valid complaints and should not have been submitted to the Local Government Ombudsman.
The Local Government Ombudsman states
‘The average cost per complaint in 2005/06 was £640 . This was 1.9 per cent more than the cost per complaint in 2004/05 when inflation is taken into account. The main reason for this was the increased costs of pension fund and National Insurance contributions.’ (My emphasis) Worthy of a separate posting?
The question is why do the Local Government Ombudsman include the above when they are nothing more than enquiries.
As a result the real cost of the Local Government Ombudsman is not £640 per complaint as they suggest but closer to £900 per valid complaint. With the average valid complainant getting about £128 as a result of the Local Government Ombudsman’s involvement they are clearly not cost effective.
Don't forget most of the premature complaints costing the Local Government Ombudsman £640 to deal with end up as another complaint after a few months.
'....he or she can complain to the Ombudsman again. Looks like a case of double counting to improve their statistics to me.
Another example of the LGO trying to burying the truth? The Local Government Ombudsman state in their latest annual review ‘The average cost per complaint in 2005/06 was £640 . This was 1.9 per cent more than the cost per complaint in 2004/05 when inflation is taken into account. The main reason for this was the increased costs of pension fund and National Insurance contributions’.1.9% of £640 is only £12.16 and doesn’t seem a lot of money. The truth is that the Local Government Ombudsman dealt with over 18,626 complaints last year and that makes it £226, 492. Close to quarter of a million pounds just to cover the increased costs of their pensions and national insurance contributions. The question is why didn’t the Local Government Ombudsman put it that way, did the amount shock them so much that they had to resort to devious tactics to reduce the impact?
The following question was asked by Mori
during their 1999 survey.
Q43. Overall, how satisfied or dissatisfied were you with the final outcome of your complaint - I mean just the actual final outcome of your complaint, and not the overall way in which your complaint was dealt with by the Ombudsman?
Fairly satisfied 9
Very satisfied 13
Fairly dissatisfied 12
Very dissatisfied 61
Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied 3
No opinion 2
Total number of satisfied complainants 21%
That's nearly three and a half times as many complainants were dissatisfied with the final outcome of their complaint than those who were satisfied.
Did the LGO improve their service or has it got much worse? For some unknown reason they decided against having another quantative survey, so their are no later figures to confirm the answer to that question one way or another.
I think we know the reason why they decided not to have another quantitive survey don't we!
During the 1999 Mori survey the LGO were
allowed to edit the list of people that Mori wanted to question. That skewed the
results in their favour.
During the more recent BMG qualitative survey the did exactly the same thing again. The following note is in the BMG report.
'‘Before writing to selected complainants the LGO cross checked the list of contacts highlighting any cases thought to be unsuitable either on the basis of sensitivity or any other significant problems which staff were aware of.'’
The results were bad enough but can you imagine how bad they would have been if they hadn'’t been allowed to doctor the list.
Well done Tony Parrish the mystery blogger
who has caused quite a stir in Liverpool.
There have been a number of articles in the press recently about councils and they all had three things in common, chief executive officers, money and maladministration.
Could the fact that all three local government ombudsmen are ex council chief executives be the reason why their investigations never expose these things?
During 1998 a Local Government Ombudsman
(LGO) found Vale Royal Borough Council (VRBC) guilty of maladministration. VRBC
had ignored serious planning breaches over the previous eight
years. Following the LGO’s report VRBC stated that lessons had been
learnt and steps would be taken to improve the system. Did the LGO’s
intervention bring about an improvement? Did VRBC learn their lesson and improve
the system? During 2005/6 I set about trying to find out.
I identified that a local play area (linked to the problems over the previous eight years) should have been completed and handed over to the council before a number of houses on the development were occupied. This planning condition was also secured with a legal agreement between the developer and VRBC. During the spring of 2001 the houses, that were the subject of the planning condition, were sold by the developer and occupied. During 2005/6 I became suspicious that the play area had still not been handed over to the Council. Using the Freedom of Information Act I identified that the Council were not responsible for maintaining the play area because it was still owned by the developer. I decided to bring the breach of planning condition to the attention of VRBC so they could take enforcement action. In fact I couldn’t understand why they hadn’t taken any action between 2001 and 2006.
VRBC confirmed that the play area was still in private hands and had not yet been handed over to the Council, then provided the most bizarre explanation as to why they hadn’t (and wouldn’t) enforce the breach.
They stated that it was up to the developer to ensure they were not in breach of the agreement by handing over the play area at the appropriate time. In addition, VRBC stated that they were not in a position to know when and if the houses were occupied because that would entail someone from VRBC doing a site visit. I pointed out that the people living in the houses had been paying VRBC council tax for the last 5 years but VRBC staff didn’t understand the irony of what I was saying.
Further evidence to prove my point can be found in the LGO’s latest annual letters to VRBC. The LGO is still critical of planning enforcement at VRBC.
'In the three cases involving the same issue we found that the Council failed to follow up breaches of planning permission with sufficient rigour and failed to keep the complainants fully informed. This is not uncommon nationally and is a general cause for concern. Control of development is important to citizens and if there are breaches in control rigour is needed. The Council has discretion here but cannot abdicate its responsibility. In the particular cases my Investigator was not convinced that the Council really accepted that anything had gone wrong. In one sense it clearly did because it paid out compensation but I trust that the Council has accepted these critical judgements. I would value some assurance on this point and information on action that was intended to improve the Council's performance in this area.'
To read the annual letter in full please click here To my knowledge VRBC have been guilty of ignoring planning breaches for over 16 years and in spite of the LGO’s involvement things have not improved. So the answer to my question must be, the LGO are a waste of time and public money!
Pat Thomas who retired during 2005 wrote an
article for the British and Irish Ombudsman’s Association.
Parts of her article clearly proves how sycophantic and biased Local Government Ombudsmen are. No doubt Mrs Thomas handled all the complaints over her 20 years as a Local Government Ombudsman with the same sycophantic behaviour and perverse assumptions.
"One council leader told me that, although the council did not dispute my findings, he could not apologise because he would “lose face”! In that case we found a form of words which recognised the council’s fault but avoided the use of the word “sorry”.
Why did she feel the need to suck up to a Council Leader, particularly one she had clearly found at fault. I think her statement clearly shows that Local Government Ombudsmen have no professional integrity whatsoever. Can you imagine a Judge helping a convicted person in the same sycophantic way.
"Councils, however, began to develop their own complaints procedures and we began to notice that the complaints we were receiving seemed to be getting more difficult to resolve. We assumed that the easier, or more straightforward, justified complaints were being settled by councils without the need for our intervention."
This again shows how a Local Government Ombudsman’s beliefs can prejudice a complainants case. She assumed that councils were settling justified complaints. That means she must have thought that any complaint the council didn’t settle were not justified.
Now we know why complainants had so much difficulty in persuading Mrs Thomas that their complaint was justified. I know I did.
Mrs Thomas' article was published in issue 28 April 2006 of the Ombudsman the British and Irish Ombudsman's Association's newsletter.
Click here to read the Ombudsman.
In the Local Government Ombudsman's 2005/6
annual report they state that councils are allowed 6 months to provide the
remedy for their acts of maladministration. Presumably before the LGO take
further action and issue a second report.
The LGO issued a report into my original complaint during October 1998. To date (16/9/2006) the council has still not provided the remedy and the Ombudsman has still not taken any further action. In fact during 2002 following the submission of another complaint the Ombudsman ended her involvement with my 1997/8 complaint and refused to investigate my 2002 complaint.
Six months! I've been waiting 8 years. Their report is nothing more than a load of smoke, mirrors and spin to further their own evangelical agenda.
To achieve this the Executive Committee agreed to establish a working group with the aim of identifying and drawing up a statement which can be used as a measure of quality assurance by current and potential BIOA members and other complaint-handling schemes and individuals, as well as those interested in the provision of such services. This information was published in the August issue of 'The Ombudsman' (The Newsletter of the BIOA).
The LGO are founder members of the BIOA yet the they have introduced the most perverse complaints handling principles and service standards that one could imagine. In addition they have an internal complaints procedure that wouldn’t be out of place in a third world dictatorship.
One of the members of the working group is going to be Jerry White, Local Government Ombudsman Coventry Office. I wonder how the LGO are going to get out of this one? Will Jerry White try and change the BIOA statement to minimise the problem with their own procedures or will the LGO change their procedures to meet the BIOA collegiate position?
A clue to what may happen can be found in an earlier posting about LGO accountability.
How did the LGO and the BIOA handle that problem. Did they ask the LGO to resign as members of the BIOA because they didn’t meet the membership criteria or did the BIOA change their entry criteria to allow the unaccountable LGO to remain members?
They did neither, they just removed the entry criteria from their web-site so it became more difficult for people to realise that their founder member did not in fact meet their membership criteria. No doubt one of the perks of being the founder member of the BIOA.
Unfortunately for the BIOA they have now given the LGO and themselves a another dilemma. The BIOA now stipulate that members should abide by the laws of natural justice but as everyone knows the LGO don’t.
So we now have the extraordinary situation that a founder member of the BIOA doesn’t meet at least two of the criteria necessary for membership of the very association they introduced; Accountability and Natural Justice. On top of that the BIOA are just about to issue a statement on good complaint handling procedures, procedures that the LGO has demonstrably failed to introduce themselves over the last 32 years.
You just couldn’t make this sort of stuff up but laughable as it may be it also clearly demonstrates the lack of integrity present within both organisations
fiddling statistics. In their 2005/6 annual
report Appendix 2(d) the Ombudsmen state that during 1998/1999 they issued
235 reports of maladministration leading to injustice.
I was one of those statistics because the report into my complaint was issued during the Autumn of 1998.
The annual report then states that there are no reports issued in 1998/1999 still awaiting a final outcome. Yet I am still waiting for the '‘final outcome'’ recommended by the then Ombudsman in their report. So how did they record mine?
Here'’s the fiddle, if the LGO believe the council may not provide the remedy (or they are going to take a long time about it) they just end their involvement suggesting that they are satisfied the council is doing everything possible to provide the remedy. Even when, as in my case, nothing could be further from the truth.
So there you have it, here I am still waiting for the final outcome yet the Local Government Ombudsman gives the statistical impression in their 2005/6 annual report that there are no 1998/1999 reports still waiting for a final outcome. 8 years of smoke, mirrors, spin and massaged statistics. I wonder how many other complainants they have stuffed just to enhance their statistics?
There is no difference between an organisation that commits acts of maladministration and those that stand idly by whilst they carry them out. A proverb from Uganda with a twist. Truth is like oil, no matter how much water you pour on it, it will always float. A proverb from Nigeria without a twist. A tribunal of foxes will always find the fox innocent. A proverb from Ghana with a twist. If you think all Council staff tell the truth, then you have not met all the council staff. A proverb from Malawi with a twist. Saving the best till last, A deceiver's ultimate victim is himself. A proverb from the Congo without a twist.
A common phrase used in house buying is location, location, location. When dealing with the Local Government Ombudsman the phrase delay, delay, delay would appear to be more appropriate. I was told in May 2006 that following a number of comeback requests my complaint would finally be investigated. I posted an update during August 2006 but at that time I was still waiting for the Councils' formal responses to my 2002 complaint. (My 2002 complaint was against two Councils, a Borough Council and a County Council.) It's now the middle of October 2006 and I am still waiting for the County Councils' formal response to my 2002 complaint. Why am I still waiting after 5 months? The answer to that question will be posted in a few weeks.
An MP recently ask the Government a question about the Local Government Ombudsman. The question is on the 'they work for you website' The answer from Phil Woolas is very interesting. He states that the Local Government Act 1974 does not make provision for the ombudsman to make a specific finding of "administrative fault". Yet we all know that the Ombudsman often make a finding of administrative fault as a prelude to a local settlement. The funny thing is that the Local Government Act 1974 doesn't make provision for the ombudsman to settle a case either but they do.