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Ombudsman sees rise in councils challenging its decisions

The Local Government Ombudsman saw a “small, but unprecedented” increase in the number of councils seeking to challenge its decisions and failing to comply with its recommendations.

Publishing its Annual Review of Local Government Complaints, the Ombudsman said: “While councils ultimately have the democratic right to choose how to implement LGO recommendations, these few instances raise a question about how councils are held to account if they fail to comply with the recommendations of its ombudsman.”

A number had also sought to challenge the validity of LGO decisions throught the media, the report said.

The LGO meanwhile warned that many councils were “dealing with increasing numbers of complaints and have less resource available to manage them due to resources being cut in complaint handling teams”.

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Other findings from the report included:

  • The Ombudsman received 18,211 complaints during the year. The overall number of local authority complaints and enquiries the Ombudsman received remained largely static compared to the previous year;
  • The LGO upheld 46% of all complaints where it carried out a detailed investigation;
  • There was a 10% rise in adult social care complaints;
  • There was an 11% decrease in complaints about benefits and tax and a 6% fall in complaints about planning and development;
  • As a proportion of its total work, education and children’s services remained the LGO’s most complained about area (17%). This was followed by: benefits and tax (15%); adult care services - council only (14%); housing (14%); and planning and development (13%).

The LGO also cited recent research which found that, on average, people spent nine months trying to resolve their complaint before coming to the LGO, and 43% of people were not told that they could approach the LGO for an independent review.

Local Government Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin, said: “Our findings point to a local complaints system that is under real pressure. Complaint handling teams are having to do ‘more with less’ and the process is not as accessible and timely as it should be.

“More investment into complaints, both in terms of resources and developing an open culture, is a good value way of driving service improvement – and local government needs to challenge itself on this question. Complaints must be seen as a positive. They can provide an early warning system for issues and are an indicator of public sentiment.”

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