Guide: Making a Complaint about a Devon County Councillor

Part 5

What happens to my complaint – how is it processed and dealt with?

Once you have made a complaint you will be told what will happen to it.

When a complaint is received which is within the scope of this Procedure the Council would aim to acknowledge receipt within 3 working days.

The Monitoring Officer will first carry out a preliminary assessment of whether the alleged behaviour falls within the Code of Conduct – and collect any information he/she deems necessary – to see if there may be a case to answer under this procedure or if, for example, a local settlement can be achieved or broker a conciliation between the subject member and complainant without recourse to the full process, following  consultation with the Independent Person.

This will normally be done within 10 working days.  If the allegation is about a matter which falls outside of the Code of Conduct or is considered to be within one of the criteria set out below the complaint will not usually progress beyond this initial assessment stage, namely:

  • if the complaint is the same or substantially the same as a complaint previously dealt with
  • if the period since the alleged behaviour is so significant that it is considered to be inequitable, unreasonable or otherwise not in the public interest to pursue
  • if the complaint is trivial
  • if the complaint discloses such a minor or technical breach of the Code that it is not in the public interest to pursue
  • if the complaint is or appears to be malicious, politically motivated, tit-for-tat or otherwise submitted with an improper motive and the complaint is not considered to disclose sufficiently serious potential breaches of the Code to merit further consideration
  • if the complaint is covered by the Council’s persistent and vexatious complaints policy and the complaint is not considered to disclose sufficiently serious potential breaches of the Code to merit further consideration
  • if the member against whom the allegation has been made has remedied or made reasonable endeavours to remedy the matter and the complaint disclose sufficiently serious potential breaches of the Code to merit further consideration
  • if the complaint is about a person who is no longer a member of a relevant council and there are no overriding public interest reasons to merit further consideration

At this stage, and following consultation with the Independent Person, if the complaint is not to progress further the Monitoring Officer will notify the complainant in writing of that fact, with reasons.  The Monitoring Officer will also write to the subject member with details of the complaint, the decision made and the reasons for the decision.   The name of the complainant will be disclosed to the subject member unless confidentiality has been requested and the Monitoring Officer considers a request to be justified.

The Council will in appropriate circumstances pass to the police or Director of Public Prosecutions any allegations it receives which disclose behaviour that may constitute a criminal offence, whether under the ethical standards provisions of the Localism Act or otherwise.

For those complaints which are to be taken beyond the preliminary process outlined above the following steps will be followed.

If after following the steps detailed above, the Monitoring Officer is of the view that local settlement is unlikely or unachievable, or the complaint warrants it, an Assessment Sub-Committee of the Standards Committee may then be convened (comprising 3 Members of the Standards Committee of whom at least one shall be a co-opted member) to determine whether or not the allegation appears to disclose a failure to observe the Members’ Code  of Conduct and then, if it judges that such a failure is disclosed, whether the matter merits investigation.  Thereafter and, as appropriate,  the Monitoring Officer shall

  • consult the Independent Person if the Assessment Sub-Committee suggest any action other than a formal investigation;
  • institute a formal investigation if the Assessment Sub-Committee is of the view that the matter merits investigation;
  • report the findings of that investigation together with the views of the Independent Person on those findings to the full Standards Committee for hearing and determination (with neither party having the right of attendance).

The Monitoring Officer and the subject member may seek the views of the nominated Independent Person at any time during this process

The assessment and review of complaints will normally be conducted by an Assessment Sub-Committee or the full Standards Committee in ‘Part II or closed’ session and information relating thereto will be considered exempt under the provisions of the Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985 and Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972, subject to the application of the public interest test, as appropriate.

Data protection requirements will be complied with and may prevent the public disclosure of information relating to complaints.

On completion of the assessment or consideration of the review a written summary of the assessment will be published. Once this has been sent to the subject member and the complainant the decision notice will be available for public inspection at the Council’s offices for 6 years from the date of the assessment or review and a copy will be placed on the Councils website in line with the requirements of the Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985 and Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972.

StepAction
1The Monitoring Officer will write to the subject member with details of the complaint, including those of the complainant (unless any confidentiality request has been agreed), and also the name and contact details of the Independent Person who has been appointed to advise on the particular complaint and who the subject member may contact to seek their views. At this stage the subject member will be given an opportunity to provide the Monitoring Officer with a written response to the complaint. A time limit for providing a written response may be imposed.
2The subject member will provide their written comments, with supporting documentation or indicate that they do not wish to provide a written response to the complaint in which case the time limit for the submission of a written response will lapse.
3The Monitoring Officer will consider the complaint again in the context of any written submissions and supporting documentation provided by the subject member.
4The Monitoring Officer will, following consultation with the Independent Person, determine what action to be taken on the complaint in accordance with the Assessment Criteria set out in the Annex to this Procedure. The options available are:

(i) to make no finding as to whether there has been a breach of the Code and take no further action;

(ii) to make no finding as to whether there has been a breach of the Code but determine that some action other than an investigation is appropriate including, for example,  some form of local settlement or conciliation exercise;

(iii) to find no breach of the Code;

(iv) to find a breach of the Code without an investigation but take no action;

(v) to find a breach of the Code without an investigation and take some action;

(vi) to require the complaint to be investigated to determine whether there has been a breach of the Code and the seriousness of the breach;

(vii) to conclude that the circumstances of the complaint indicate that an offence under Chapter 7 of Part 1 of the Localism Act 2011 may have been committed and that the complaint ought to be investigated, by the police where appropriate, to determine whether a prosecution should be brought.

5The outcome of the determination of the complaint will be notified in writing to the complainant and the subject member  within 5 working days.

[NB: Steps 1 to 4 above will normally be conducted within 28 days of receipt of the complaint.  If it is not possible to complete any such tasks within that time the complainant and  subject member will be contacted and advised of the delay and when the Steps will be completed.]