Wednesday, June 28, 2006

New Group Blog

I have just set up a new blog for people who would like to publish their experience with the Local Government Ombudsman but do not have the time to produce and maintain their own blog.

Each posting will have a unique URL so you will be able to link to your posting from any other web-page or blog. In addition you will be able to link from your posting to any other web-page or blog.

Please note the group blog has been integrated with http://www.psow.co.uk/

Trevor R Nunn

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Happy 9th Anniversary

The 10th year of Local Government Ombudsman involvement in my complaint started this month. Here are a few other facts.

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.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Flawed Policy

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 organisation.

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.

Message to the Government


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 maladministration.

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.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Retired LGO receives OBE or is it a CBE?

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.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Local Settlements

Introduction

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.


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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Blog news

I have now added a copy of the open letter I sent to all three Ombudsmen to my new evidence archive. I intend to add further documentary evidence as soon as possible.

Double counting

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.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Blog news

I have now added an Evidence Archive section. The first addition to the new section is a copy of the 1974 Local Government Act. Other evidence will be added in due course.