Local Government Ombudsman
Has the council done something wrong? (maladministration)
The law says the Local Government Ombudsman can investigate alleged or apparent ‘maladministration’ or service failure. This can include:
- incorrect action or failure to take any action
- failure to follow procedures or the law
- failure to provide information
- inadequate record-keeping
- failure to investigate
- failure to reply
- misleading or inaccurate statements
- inadequate liaison
- inadequate consultation
- broken promises
The Ombudsman does not usually criticise a decision which has been properly taken simply because someone disagrees with it. We will however look at the way the decision was made.
Parliamentary & Health Service Ombudsman
What can the Parliamentary Ombudsman look at?
The Ombudsman can look into complaints about a service provided by a government department, agency or other organisation acting on their behalf.
Scottish Public Services OmbudsmanMaladministration and Service Failure
The Ombudsman Act says that the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) can only investigate a complaint relating to maladministration or service failure which a member of the public feels has caused them injustice or hardship. The Act does not define 'maladministration'. A dictionary definition of the term is 'bad, inefficient or dishonest administration'. This can cover things like unreasonable delay, rudeness, failure to apply the law or rules properly.
The term 'service failure' covers failure in a service provided or failure to provide a service which should be provided. The Ombudsman Act says that the SPSO cannot question the merits of a decision taken without maladministration. This means we cannot look at a complaint just because somebody is unhappy about something a public body has done (or not done). There has to some evidence of maladministration or service failure.
Ombudsman for Wales
The Ombudsman for Wales looks to see whether people have been treated unfairly or inconsiderately, or have received a bad service through some fault on the part of the public body providing it. Putting that in more official terms, his main role is to look into complaints made by members of the public that they have suffered hardship or injustice through maladministration or service failure on the part of a public body within his jurisdiction.
The Ombudsman can look into complaints about local government, National Health Service organisations - including GPs - housing associations and the Welsh Assembly Government.
ADRAlternative Dispute Resolution
The Cambridge online dictionary defines maladministration as ‘lack of care, judgment or honesty in the management of something’. But the law does not define maladministration. When the public service ombudsmen were set up, parliament left it for the ombudsmen to decide the meaning of the word.
The Crossman catalogue is not intended to be a comprehensive definition of maladministration - it is simply a list of examples which have been used in the past. Further definitive guidance on matters which may be covered by the term maladministration may be produced by the Ombudsman in due course.
- Maladministration is a term which describes the actions of a government body which can be seen as causing an injustice.
- Faulty, inefficient or improper management or administration, especially by a government body.
- To administer or manage inefficiently or dishonestly.
Ombudsmen will only investigate "maladministration that causes injustice". In essence a Public Authority can be guilty of the most appalling maladministration but unless you have suffered injustice the Ombudsman will not investigate your complaint.
Again, there is no fixed definition of injustice but it can consist of:
- financial loss or unnecessary expense;
- hurt feelings, distress, worry, or inconvenience;
- loss of right or amenity; and
- time and trouble in pursuing a justified complaint
The problemThere is no statutory definition of maladministration or injustice. That allows Ombudsmen considerable freedom to interpret the meaning as they see fit. In addition many Ombudsmen have also increased the amount of injustice you are expected to have suffered before they will investigate your complaint.
When the 1967 Act was being taken through the UK Parliament, Mr Crossman, as Leader of the House of Commons, gave the following examples of maladministration:
'Bias, neglect, inattention, delay, incompetence, ineptitude, perversity, turpitude and arbitrariness and so on'.
This is known as the 'Crossman catalogue'.
Additional examples of maladministration were quoted in the UK Parliamentary Ombudsman's annual report for 1993:
Rudeness (although that is a matter of degree);
Unwillingness to treat the complainant as a person with rights;
Refusal to answer reasonable questions;
Neglecting to inform a complainant on request of his or her rights or entitlements;
Knowingly giving advice which is misleading or inadequate;
Ignoring valid advice or overruling considerations which would produce an uncomfortable result for the 'over-ruler';
Offering no redress or manifestly disproportionate redress;
Showing bias because of colour, sex, or any other grounds;
Omission to notify those who thereby lost a right of appeal;
Refusal to inform adequately of the right of appeal;
Failure by management to monitor compliance with adequate procedures;
cavalier disregard of guidance which is intended to be followed in the interest of equitable treatment of those who use a service;
Failure to mitigate the effects of rigid adherence to the letter of the law where this produces manifestly inequitable treatment.