Poor complaint response from London borough prompts further Ombudsman investigation

London Borough of Camden failed to carry out a recommendation to apologise to a man for its poor handling of a complaint until the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman chased it for a response, an investigation by the watchdog has found.

Following an earlier complaint to the Ombudsman in 2019, the council had agreed to apologise to the man and ensure staff would properly address and respond to complaints in the future.

Camden was asked to respond by November 2019, but it was a year later when the apology was finally issued, and it did not acknowledge the council's failure to respond to the original complaint properly, the report noted.

The council has not provided the Ombudsman with details of how it will ensure its staff deal with complaints properly in future, the Ombudsman has said.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said Camden's case is an example of how the watchdog is "thoroughly checking councils' compliance with the actions they have agreed to take".

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Mr King added: "How a council reflects on and learns from complaints is a measure of the maturity of its corporate culture. It is disappointing therefore that I have had to chase Camden council for the simplest of apologies – and even when this was provided, it did not acknowledge the previous problems I had found.

"It has also failed to provide me with assurance it will deal with complaints properly in future, so I look forward to receiving this confirmation in due course."

Following the Ombudsman's recent inquiry, Camden has agreed to apologise as a result of the delay.

The London borough has also agreed to explain the steps it will take to ensure staff are clear about how to properly address and respond to complaints in the future. It will also explain how it monitors and implements Ombudsman recommendations to prevent similar mistakes happening again.

In response to the recommendations, the council's complaints team has implemented the following measures for handling complaints:

• Revision of the complaint allocation and escalation protocol to ensure Senior Managers and the Directorate are made aware of complaints.
• A Complaint Tracker has been embedded in the new complaint Case Management Database to identify those complaints that are due/overdue. Senior officers will have access to this function to review service performance.
• A copy of the Complaint Procedure has been re-circulated to the Senior Officers in the Children in Need service to reiterate the expectations of officers as part of the Statutory Complaint Procedure.
• Refresher Complaint Training was recently delivered to Senior Officers and Practitioners within Children Services.

A Camden Council spokesman said: "We have fully co-operated with the Ombudsman throughout this process and as part of this have provided them with full details on how we have strengthened our complaints handling in light of this case. This includes revising how complaints are escalated to senior managers, installing a 'complaints tracker' and delivering refresher complaints training for senior officers within the service.

"While it is rare for Camden to have a finding against it in this way, we have acknowledged our error in this case and taken steps to ensure we learn from it. We would like to reiterate our apology to the individual concerned for how we initially dealt with their complaint and reassure them we have put in place strong measures in response to this error."

In order to comply with further recommendations made by the watchdog, Camden has said it plans to place two public notices in local newspapers on 8 July 2021 alongside publishing the report on its website. Additionally, in November the cabinet will consider a more detailed report, as part of the council's annual complaints report.

Adam Carey

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