More systemic problems seen in Ombudsman complaints lead to increased wider service improvements

Increasing systemic problems seen in people’s complaints has led to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman making more wider service improvement recommendations to councils in 2019-20 than ever before.

Detailed in its Annual Review of Local Government Complaints launched today, the Ombudsman has made more than 1,600 recommendations to improve services for the wider public – up 12% on the previous year. Service improvement recommendations are when councils agree to review policies, procedures and staff training, to avoid other people being affected by the same fault in a case.

Over the past year the Ombudsman has upheld a greater proportion of the complaints it investigates, from 58% last year to 61%. But on a positive note, this figure includes a higher number of cases where the Ombudsman agreed with the way the council had offered to put things right before the complaint got to the Ombudsman. This figure has increased from 11% to 13% – demonstrating the sector is increasingly learning from its own complaints.

The Ombudsman publishes information on the extent to which councils comply with its recommendations. Last year 99.4% of recommendations were agreed and carried out by councils.

The data, which includes specific information about complaints investigated for every local authority in England, is included on the Ombudsman’s interactive online map. This now includes two years’ of complaints and remedies data, so people can start to build a picture of performance over time. The map can be used by council officers to learn from complaints, councillors to scrutinise complaints and decisions about their authorities, and by residents to hold their local authorities to account.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

“While we are seeing more and more complex cases beset by systemic problems, we are also increasingly working with councils to identify the root of those problems and making recommendations to improve the underlying policies and procedures causing them.

“These service improvements highlight the power one single complaint can have – when dealt with properly – to prevent problems reoccurring and improve services for others.

“The cases highlighted in my report reflect the reality of local authority life prior to the Covid-19 crisis, but I believe it is all the more important now to deal with complaints properly and to harness this free public feedback.

“Councils’ readiness on the whole to work with us to implement our practical recommendations to improve the services they provide, demonstrates the sector has a mature attitude to complaint handling - one which we have advocated throughout our work.”

The report also highlights:

  • There were 2,039 cases in which the Ombudsman made recommendations to put things right (up 6% on 2018-19)
  • 3,748 recommendations to remedy personal injustice (up 6% on 2018-19). In many cases, we will recommend more than one type of remedy. For example, we may recommend an authority makes an apology, pays a sum of money, and reviews a policy or procedure.
  • Children and Education services make up the largest proportion of its workload (21%). The Ombudsman is now upholding 72% of those complaints it investigates in this area.
  • Other areas with higher than average uphold rates include Adult care services (68%), Housing (66%) and Benefits and Tax (65%)

The Ombudsman issues a separate annual review for the Adult Social Care cases it investigates, covering both local councils and independent care providers. This report is published in the Autumn.

Article date: 29 July 2020