The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) has powers to deal with complaints made by members of the public about fire authorities.
The law says that, before investigating a complaint, the LGSCO must be sure the fire authority knows about the complaint and has had a reasonable opportunity to investigate and reply to it. Otherwise a complaint to the LGSCO is premature and we may refer it back to the fire authority to deal with in the first instance.
The LGSCO can, in exceptional circumstances, waive this requirement and take on a case for investigation earlier. If we do this, we will always explain why to all concerned.
We generally expect a complainant to go through all stages of an organisation’s complaints process. If their complaint is still not resolved, or they have not had a response within a reasonable time, they can come to us. We think up to 12 weeks is usually a reasonable time for complainants who do not have a statutory process to follow. It is important when an authority has finished dealing with a complaint, they tell the complainant they can bring their complaint to the Ombudsman. We will ask the complainant for proof that an authority’s complaints procedure has been completed before we pass the complaint to our Assessment Team.
When telling people about the LGSCO in your closing letters, you may find the insert below helpful.
Insert for use by fire authorities in complaints documentation
Once your complaint has been fully dealt with by [name of fire authority], if you are not satisfied with the outcome you can refer your complaint to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) and ask for it to be reviewed. The LGSCO provides a free, independent service.
You can contact the LGSCO for information or to register your complaint:
T: 0300 061 0614
Or write to: The Local Government Ombudsman, PO Box 4771, Coventry CV4 0EH
The LGSCO will not usually investigate a complaint until the authority has had an opportunity to respond and resolve matters.
No. The LGSCO decides as part of our Assessment process which cases are suitable to pursue based on our jurisdiction, how old the matter is and the initial facts highlighted in the case. We must be satisfied that there appears to be a valid injustice for the complainant which links to the alleged shortcomings in what the authority has done. As we seek to obtain the maximum impact from our casework, the extent to which any individual complaint raises issues of wider public interest is a major consideration when deciding which cases we investigate.
Investigators deal with cases and have delegated powers from the Ombudsman to pursue enquiries and make decisions. They may consult directly with the Ombudsman as required.
The investigator establishes what the complaint is about and gathers relevant facts. Once they have sufficient information to reach a view they will decide if your authority has acted properly or if there is evidence of maladministration causing injustice. They know there are two sides to every story. Investigators are always looking for ways to reach a prompt and proportionate remedy where the complaint is justified. Equally a key part of their role is bringing matters to a close where the complaint is not justified. You will have an opportunity to comment on our ‘draft decision’ before we reach a final decision.
Enquiries are usually made by email, and we ask for your response in four weeks. You should let us know promptly if you cannot meet our deadline: you have the investigator’s name and contact details so you can discuss any difficulties in providing what we require. Most authorities are happy to co-operate, but we have the powers of the High Court to obtain evidence if needed. Investigators may visit you to inspect records and interview the people involved. If some evidence you provide is confidential and cannot be shared with others, please tell us. Once the investigator is satisfied that they have enough evidence to reach a reliable conclusion they will set out their draft decision and invite the parties to comment.
LGSCO decisions are set out in a Statement. The complainant’s identity is anonymised. This is first released to the parties concerned as a draft decision, and your comments are invited.
The Statement will address the following questions:
- Was there fault or service failure?
- Did that cause the injustice claimed?
- If so, what could provide proportionate redress?
- What can be learned from this case for the benefit of others?
The draft decision can be changed if you, or the complainant, have new information or further arguments about the complaint that may lead to a different conclusion.
The final Statement will close the case and is issued to the complainant and the fire authority at the same time. It will set out the grounds for the decision and the LGSCO’s recommendations for service improvement and remedy – if required. The LGSCO publishes most decisions on their website.
If the case is not upheld, and you are not, therefore, called upon to provide a remedy, it is still worth considering whether you had good enough arrangements to deal with the complaint yourself.
In most justified cases we will recommend an agreed plan to put matters right and provide a suitable remedy, and a timetable for doing so. We expect you to keep the complainant and the LGSCO informed of progress on that. This approach provides the best possible outcome for the complainant.
If you reject the LGSCO’s recommendations or agree them but fail to implement the remedy as promised, the LGSCO will go on to publish a public report.
We aim to close 65% of complaints made to us within 13 weeks and 85% within 26 weeks. This includes the whole time we have a complaint, from when we first receive it until we finish working on it.
Complainants and fire authorities can ask for a case review if they feel their case was not properly considered. As the LGSCO is a public body, we can be subject of a Judicial Review if the complainant or fire authority considers our final decision is legally unsound.