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What we do when we get your complaint about a local authority member’s conduct

This page 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, national park authorities and police and crime panels 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, which are available here.  This page should be read in conjunction with the Code of Conduct factsheets, which can be found on our website here.

New complaints

All new complaints are first 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 its existence.  Any complaint of this nature must be supported by apparently substantial and direct evidence, as opposed to assertions. Where necessary we may contact you for more details.

Each complaint, and any supporting information, will then be examined against a two stage test.  In the first instance, we will consider whether the evidence is suggestive that a breach of the code of conduct actually took place. The second stage is whether, if proven, the alleged breach would be likely to lead to a sanction being imposed on the member by a standards committee or by the Adjudication Panel for Wales.  We will aim to tell you within six weeks whether or not the Ombudsman intends to investigate your complaint.

If we cannot accept your complaint

If a complaint does not meet the first stage of the test, you will be provided with an explanation in writing.  A copy will also be sent to all persons previously notified.

If the first stage of the test is met, but there are concerns about the second stage, the complaint may be referred to the Monitoring Officer of the relevant Local Authority to consider whether local investigation of the matter is appropriate. The concerns identified will be shared with the Monitoring Officer. The Monitoring Officer must then decide within ten working days whether to undertake an investigation. If the Monitoring Officer indicates that a local investigation is appropriate, the matter will be formally referred in accordance with the relevant legislation.  If, however, the Monitoring Officer agrees that an investigation is not warranted, the complaint will be declined and we will write to you with an explanation.

If we decide to investigate your complaint

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.

Investigations are generally conducted in private. Disclosure of details relating to an investigation during the Ombudsman’s investigation may amount to a breach of the Code of Conduct for elected members. 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.

Investigation outcomes

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. The Ombudsman can once again refer the matter to the Monitoring Officer of the relevant authority to consider whether further local investigation is appropriate.

Where the Ombudsman finds that a complaint is justified, 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 will 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.

If you are dissatisfied with our decision not to investigate your complaint

Once we have issued a decision not to investigate a complaint against an elected member, 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.

In times of trouble or distress, some people may act out of character. There may have been upsetting or distressing circumstances leading up to a complaint. We do not view behaviour as unacceptable just because someone is forceful or determined.

We believe that all complainants should have the right to be heard, understood and respected. However, our staff also have the same rights. We, therefore, expect you to be polite and courteous in your dealings with us. We will not tolerate aggressive or abusive behaviour, unreasonable demands or unreasonable persistence.