This factsheet explains what happens after you complain to the Ombudsman about the conduct or behaviour of members and co-opted members of local authorities, community councils, fire & rescue authorities and national park authorities in Wales. It also explains the different approaches the Ombudsman and his staff can take when dealing with complaints of this nature. It does not cover every detail of our procedures, a summary of which is available here.
All new complaints are considered by the Ombudsman’s Complaints Advice Team, who will acknowledge receipt of the complaint and notify the accused member, the Monitoring Officer of the relevant authority and the Clerk of the relevant Community Council (if appropriate) of it and provide them with a copy of it. Any complaint of this nature must be supported by direct evidence, as opposed to assertions. Where necessary we may contact you for more details. In submitting a complaint, you must understand that your details will be disclosed to the member who you are complaining about and, if necessary, you must be prepared to give oral evidence in support of your allegation.
Each complaint, and any supporting information, will then be examined against a two stage test. At the first stage, we will consider whether there is direct evidence that a breach of the Code of Conduct has occurred. At the second stage we consider whether an investigation or a referral to a standards committee or the Adjudication Panel for Wales is required in the public interest. This involves the consideration of a number of public interest factors such as: whether a member has deliberately sought a personal gain at the public expense for themselves or others, misused a position of trust, whether an investigation is required to maintain public confidence in elected members or whether an investigation is proportionate in the circumstances. When we have received sufficient information to assess your complaint, we will aim to tell you within six weeks whether or not the Ombudsman intends to investigate your complaint. However where it is not possible we will let you know.
If a complaint does not meet the two stage test, you will be provided with an explanation in writing. A copy will also be sent to all persons previously notified.
If we decide to investigate your complaint it will be conducted by one of the Ombudsman’s investigators. He or she may contact you to discuss your concerns and explain what will happen next. We will always write to you and the parties previously notified confirming our decision to investigate. At this stage the Investigator will usually obtain further relevant documentary evidence, witness evidence and evidence from the accused Member.
Each investigation varies and while it may be necessary to interview those involved, some cases may be concluded through examination of documents alone. We aim to complete all investigations within 12 months but most are concluded sooner. We will keep you informed of how the investigation is progressing. If, for any reason, we consider it necessary to discontinue our investigation, we will write to you explaining this decision. The Ombudsman’s investigations are conducted in private. You are therefore asked not to contact or discuss the details of the complaint or any information that we may share with you with any potential witnesses or persons who may be involved in the matter, whether directly or indirectly, to avoid any prejudice to the investigation. When we have all the information required, we will write a report or letter setting out the evidence we have considered and the conclusions we have reached.
If we conclude there is no evidence of a breach the Code of Conduct, we will close the investigation and provide written reasons for this decision to all parties.
If, having reviewed the evidence, it is suggestive that a breach of the Code has occurred, the Ombudsman may determine in some circumstances that no further action is appropriate.
Where the Ombudsman finds that a complaint is justified and it is also considered to be in the public interest to do so, he may refer it either to the Standards Committee of the relevant authority, or to a tribunal convened by the Adjudication Panel for Wales to make a determination on the issues. A copy of the Ombudsman’s report will also be sent to the accused member. You will be notified of the Ombudsman’s conclusions, and a summary of the report may be provided for your information. The full version of the report remains confidential until such time as a determination is made on the issues by the Standards Committee or tribunal.
Once we have issued a decision not to investigate a complaint against an elected member or to close an investigation or that no further action is appropriate our task is effectively ended and the file is closed. We will not re-open a case solely because you may disagree with our decision but you can ask in writing (within twenty working days) for us to review your case if: you have relevant new evidence to show us; or, you are able to demonstrate that information we had was not properly taken into account in making our decision. The Ombudsman’s Review Manager will consider whether there are grounds to review your complaint and whether further action is required.