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Council failed to complete investigation and communicate decision to school taxi driver, Ombudsman finds Published Date: 26/06/2023

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found that a borough council “failed to communicate” with a taxi driver after it received untrue allegations against him.

The Local Government Lawyer reported that in its report the Ombudsman noted that South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council’s response had “sought to remedy this and limit any further injustice”.

The council offered the man behind the complaint, Mr X, £500 in compensation and offered him training, meaning he is now officially able to do contract work again.

Outlining the background to the case, the Ombudsman said that Mr X is a taxi driver and worked for Taxi Company A for more than 16 years. From September 2018, Mr X “regularly transported students on a home to school contract” (“the contract”).

Mr X complained to the Ombudsman that the council “failed to follow the correct process” when it received untrue allegations against him. The report said: “He says he could not work as a taxi-driver on the school run between January 2019 and September 2019 and from September 2021 onwards.”

In January 2019, the council received a LADO referral. The individual alleged Mr X “acted inappropriately while transporting students to and from school”, the report noted.

Mr X’s manager at Taxi Company A told Mr X the LADO was investigating the allegation. Taxi Company A suspended Mr X from the contract. Mr X could continue working as a self-employed taxi-driver, said the Ombudsman.

In February 2019, the council held a LADO Strategy Meeting to discuss the referral. However, Mr X was not invited to the meeting and would not receive a copy of the minutes.

In September 2019, Mr X started doing contract work for Taxi Company B.

The council became aware of Mr X doing contract work in September 2021 and held an informal meeting. The LADO arranged a formal meeting in October 2021, which Mr X was again not invited to.

The result of the 2021 LADO meeting was unsubstantiated. “The attendees had concerns about Mr X but could not prove or disprove the allegations. The attendees agreed Mr X could continue to drive taxis but not provide contract work”, said the Ombudsman.

The report revealed that in October 2021, the LADO wrote to Mr X telling him the result of the meeting. The letter apologised for not directly sharing the information with Mr X during the previous LADO investigation although it recognised Mr X’s employer did.

Mr X wrote to the council in January 2022 and asked for advice on how he could challenge the decision. Council officers offered him training, and after completing this, Mr X “returned to contract work, with conditions”, the report noted.

Mr X complained to the council in May 2022. The Ombudsman found that the council “partially upheld Mr X’s complaint and admitted its communication during the LADO investigation was poor”. It apologised and offered Mr X £500.

The Ombudsman investigated and concluded that the LADO “should have ensured Mr X understood the allegation, processes and progress of the investigation. They did not. The Council is at fault”.

The Ombudsman also found fault with the way there was “no communication with Mr X or support offered” by the council during the investigation. Further, he added: “I have not seen any evidence the LADO monitored the progress of the case in 2019, after the first meeting”.

Concluding the investigation, the Ombudsman said:

“The Council's failure to complete the investigation and communicate a decision to Mr X caused him stress, anxiety and left him in limbo. However, he was still able to work on a self-employed basis and the Council's failure to complete the investigation process meant he could do the contract work for another taxi firm. This reduced the financial impact on Mr X and limited his injustice.

“The Council offered Mr X £500; this is in line with the Ombudsman’s remedies guidance for distress payments. The Council also offered training, Mr X is now officially able to do contract work. I consider this is a suitable remedy and I do not intend to make further recommendations.”