The Ombudsman has considerable discretion to decide how far and in what way each complaint should be investigated and resolved. Because all complaints are different they may be handled in a range of different ways. The Ombudsman will always write to let you know whether or not he believes your complaint is one which he can or should investigate. If he does not think your complaint can or should be investigated, he will explain why. If there appears to be scope to resolve your complaint informally the Ombudsman may pursue that as an alternative to completing a formal investigation.
If the Ombudsman is to investigate your complaint, he will agree with you a summary of the matters to be investigated and indicate how he plans to pursue the investigation. He will want to make sure he understands both sides of the story in order to make an independent and impartial judgement. In some cases he may have sufficient evidence to reach a provisional conclusion from papers you have supplied. In others he may need to do any or all of:
- obtaining comments or documentary evidence from the Trust;
- visiting a site;
- interviewing people involved in the complaint, including you; or
- seeking the views of third parties, or an expert opinion.
At the end of the investigation the Ombudsman will send you a draft decision on your complaint. This will, as appropriate, include a summary of the views of the complainant and the Trust, a summary of the evidence he considers relevant to the decision, an explanation of the Ombudsman’s view as to whether there was any maladministration and injustice and, if there was, his recommended remedy or remedies, which may include a financial award and/or a requirement to take some action. You and the Trust will have the chance to comment on that draft decision before the Ombudsman makes a final decision. If you wish to withdraw your complaint at any stage you may do so.
The Ombudsman does not make a decision on the basis of legal principles, in the way that a court would. This means that an outcome of an Ombudsman’s investigation may not be the same as one made by a court.
If the Ombudsman upholds your complaint and makes a recommendation you will have a choice as to whether to accept the recommendations or to decline them. If you accept them, the Trust will be required to carry them out unless by doing so it might result in the Trustees of the Trust breaching their legal obligations as charitable trustees. If you do not, the Trust will not be required to do anything. That will be the end of his involvement, and you may then seek redress via alternative means such as the courts. If you accept any recommendations the Ombudsman will remain involved with the complaint at least until he receives a commitment that appropriate action has been, or will be, taken.
The Ombudsman may publish a short summary of your complaint and his decision (in his annual report or on the website), but will omit any personal details.
There is nobody above the Ombudsman available to consider appeals about the Ombudsman’s decisions. However, even if the Ombudsman has considered your complaint, but you have rejected the final decision or have withdrawn from the process, you are not prevented from seeking a remedy in the Courts. In this case, a court may be likely to want to see, and take into account, any decision made by the Ombudsman.