Advisory Panel Procedure
1. The Ombudsman may convene a panel in cases where it is felt that a wider range of opinions and experience is needed. This generally will be only when other avenues as detailed in the Complaints Procedure have failed to reach a settlement or where the Ombudsman wishes to seek others’ experience and views before reaching a decision. Examples include Freegle members in relation to issues about their Freegle local community or who wish to appeal a decision or practice of Freegle. Community owners, moderators or volunteers whose community has been refused affiliation or dismissed from affiliation with Freegle. Current or recent Freegle Volunteers or Freegle Ltd Members who wish to appeal a decision or practice of Freegle. Elected role holders who wish to appeal a decision or practice of their fellow elected role team members.
2. A separate Panel will be convened for each case.
B. Panel Membership
1. The Ombudsman will ask for volunteers to serve as part of the pool of potential panellists for a period of 12 months. A mix of experienced and less experienced Volunteers will be encouraged to be included in the pool so there is a fair range of perspectives available. No elected Role Holder is eligible to serve on the Panel.
2. The Ombudsman will ensure that the pool of panellists is sufficient to deal with any requests for the Panel to convene by actively recruiting if necessary. The Ombudsman may take appropriate action to encourage Volunteers to participate including (but not limited to) direct invitations and emails to community owner addresses. The Panel List will be kept by the Ombudsman and published on Modtools in the Teams section.
3. The Panel will comprise Freegle Volunteers or Freegle Ltd Members randomly selected from the pool by the Ombudsman.
4. Panellists are required to declare any conflict of interests in the case under discussion and withdraw themselves from the process. This may be where individuals have worked closely with or had contact with each other and whether that would be likely to influence their judgement. This is the ultimate decision of the Ombudsman, but criteria for noting possible conflict of interest include: Indications that a potential panellist might have strong views about other people involved in the panel or one or more of the parties involved. Indications that a potential panellist might have strong views about the issue being considered, If panel pool members work closely together in other capacities, to the extent that it is felt they would not bring independent views to the panel. If a potential panellist and one of the parties involved were moderators on the same community.
C. Panel Members
When a Panel is convened:
1. Panellists must inform the Ombudsman of any conflicts of interest. Failure to do so may disqualify them from sitting on the panel.
2. Panellists must confirm their acceptance to sit on the panel within 48 hours or another will be selected.
3. All information pertaining to the case must remain confidential.
4. Panellists must give a primary email address to the Ombudsman, plus another contact method eg: home telephone number, mobile number, alternative email address etc. Panellists and the Ombudsman must normally access their e-mails at least once a day.
5. Panellists must be available for the duration of the panel, which will be stated before the panel is selected. In the case of any situation that arises that precludes this, the Ombudsman must be informed immediately.
6. If a panellist is not contactable for three days without prior agreement other forms of communication will be used to contact them. If there is still no response they will be removed from the panel. At their discretion, the Ombudsman may recruit replacement panellists.
D. Panel Procedure
1. The number of panellists will be at the Ombudsman’s discretion.
2. Discussions will only be conducted via the Ombudsman email and/or via limited access google docs. All communications must only be via these means; no panellist should contact any other directly to ask for further information. All messages to and from the Ombudsman should be acknowledged on receipt.
3. The Ombudsman will contact the individual(s) who have been involved in the issues referred and inform them of the process. If they have any concern that one or more members of the panel pool might be unsuitable to serve in their case, they should email the Ombudsman in confidence as soon as possible.
4. The Ombudsman will request all relevant information relating to a complaint/appeal to be submitted within a mutually agreed time frame.
5. Details that people wish to be kept confidential should be marked as such. Information received as evidence will be shared with the other parties concerned unless there is an explicit request from the person writing that it should only be available to the Ombudsman. Information supplied can be anonymised if felt appropriate, with the exception of the names of the relevant parties.
6. Panellists will not discuss the ongoing specific proceedings outside of the Panel. Although the Ombudsman can ask for general clarifications from relevant agencies or individuals; others involved are strongly recommended not to discuss relevant issues on any open forum whilst the appeal is taking place.
7. The Ombudsman may ask any relevant Working Group or the Board for clarification or assistance, as long as this does not reveal, either explicitly or by clear implication, information which has been received in confidence.
8. When discussing a point within the Panel, there should be a time frame for reply or response. If valid comments are received after this they will be taken into consideration if possible. The Panel will be open and fair, ensuring that all interests are considered and that any recommendation balances speed of action alongside thoroughness.
9. If affected or involved parties choose not to take part in these proceedings, they will continue, but with the non-participation noted as appropriate.
10. When a decision is reached, the Ombudsman will write to the people involved in the case, and suggest a resolution, if appropriate.
11. The Ombudsman will ensure that any information received, ie. all messages posted, files logged as a record of the complete process and decisions made, will be recorded. This is to be treated as strictly confidential and routine access will only be allowed to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman may, in exceptional circumstances and at their discretion, make selected extracts available for inspection.
E. Timeframe The total consultation process is to take no more than 4 weeks from the date of decision being appealed against. The Ombudsman will use their discretion throughout the Panel proceedings, within the procedures outlined in this document, to ensure that business is conducted within the timescales. If there are extenuating circumstances, the Ombudsman shall have discretion to extend this period for the minimum time necessary in their opinion.
The outcome of any complaint will be reported as part of an annual summary provided by the Ombudsman. This will be anonymised and Panellists’ names will be kept confidential.