Thursday, April 17, 2008

DIY LGO

After 11 years experience of the Local Government Ombudsman, I would never recommend them to anyone. However, if you decide to use them you should be aware of the following.

Once you have submitted your complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman never stop collecting information and evidence yourself. Many complainants fall into this trap and are then solely reliant on the LGO investigator identifying, collecting and interpreting the necessary evidence to support their complaint. This is a huge mistake, the investigator is not working for you!

LGO investigators are under pressure [1] to close down your complaint. As a result, rather than investigating a complaint thoroughly, if at all, they will look for the easiest way to close it down.

[1] LGO investigators have targets to achieve and are paid a bonus if they achieve those targets. One of the main targets is the number of complaints they determine.

The only way to protect yourself is to collect information and evidence yourself. Submitting Data Protection and Freedom of Information requests to the council concerned is one way to gather information and evidence. Another is to check out the statute law data base to ensure that the council and ombudsman are working within their statutory powers. Don't just take their word for it because they often misrepresent the truth. Don't forget to consider the Human Rights issues because most complaints also involve Human Rights. You may also need to learn a little about the law in general. I have posted a few case laws that may help. As a last resort, if you feel either the council or ombudsman have made an unlawful decision, you could seek a judicial review. If money is a problem and you can't get legal aid then you can always become a litigant in person. This procedure is not for the faint hearted so if you have any doubts you should obtain legal advice. If you need help or advice then you could do a lot worse than post a question on the Ombudsman Watchers public forum. You will also need to conduct some research about the Ombudsman, or more particularly the devious tactics they employ to bury maladministration for their friends and ex colleagues still working in local Councils. A good starting point for your research is LGO watch and Public Service Ombudsman Watchers. Those two web sites will provide you with a wealth of information and useful links.

Remember, under normal circumstances [2], the primary objective of the Ombudsman is to close your complaint down as cheaply as possible for their friends in the council concerned. Your objective is to make it as difficult as possible for them to do that until you receive an adequate remedy for the maladministration you complained about. The longer it takes them to stuff you with an inadequate remedy the more successful you have been.

[2] Unless the council concerned has annoyed the Ombudsman more than you have. Trafford Council is an example; following their demand to change Ombudsmen, the Ombudsman concerned awarded £100,000 to a Trafford resident who had submitted a complaint against them. Hell hath no fury like an ombudsmen scorned.

The Balchin's case is a paradigm example. During 1991 the Local Government Ombudsman refused to investigate their complaint [3]. The Balchins had to fight for 14 years until finally during 2005 the Local Government Ombudsman jointly issued a report with the Parliamentary Ombudsman admitting that the Balchins had suffered injustice as a result of maladministration. The Balchins were awarded £200,000. A 14 year battle for justice just because a Local Government Ombudsman tried to bury their complaint in 1991.

[3] During 1991 the Local Government Ombudsman told the Balchins that they didn't have a complaint of merit.

The irony of the situation is that, even though they have had their fingers badly burnt in the past, Local Government Ombudsmen still cling to the policy of believing everything a council tell them. This is one of the Ombudsman's achilles' heels that complainants can exploit to their advantage. Especially when/if the case gets to court and the Council can't back up the statements they made to the Ombudsman.

Mary Seneviratne 'Public Services and Administrative Justice' (2002 Butterworth) : Whilst accepting that ombudsmen have some flexibility in deciding what may or may not be maladministration she also states that ' where actions are clearly contrary to the law this is maladministration'.

Therefore, the $64,000 question the Ombudsman will be left to answer is, 'how could a court find a Council guilty of maladministration [4] when they [the Ombudsman] had previously asserted that the Council was not guilty of maladministration?'

[4]
infringing your legal/human rights. (refer to the comment by Mary Seneviratne 'where actions are clearly contrary to the law this is maladministration.')

That fear was the underlying reason why the Local Government Omnbudsman decided to find in favour of the Balchins after 14 years. If they hadn't changed their mind they would have had to explain their own incompetance. And as everyone knows Local Government Ombudsmen don't like to admit they are wrong even when it is clear that they are. Yet another of their achilles' heels that complainants can exploit.

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