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Annual Report details how Ombudsman adapted during the pandemic

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has published its Annual Report and Accounts 2020-21, welcoming the resilience of its staff in a challenging year for everyone.

Roughly covering the first year of COVID-19 (April 2020 – March 2021), the report shows the impact of the pandemic on the Ombudsman’s work particularly in the first quarter of the year.

The Ombudsman resumed its usual operations in June 2020 after a three month pause in taking new complaints. The decision to pause was made at the tail end of the previous year, aimed at not exacerbating the pressure on already-stretched councils and care providers during the first wave of COVID-19.

The Ombudsman received and decided fewer complaints from the public in 2020-21 than in a typical year. Despite this, there was no shortage of reports published by the Ombudsman which held councils to account and shared the learning from its investigations.

These reports included issuing best practice guidance to local authorities and care providers on retaining good administrative practice during the crisis. It also released guides on the children’s social care complaints system – about which the Ombudsman receives the most queries from councils – and a relaunch of its guidance on effective complaint handling.

The Ombudsman published a report on its first 50 investigations about the Homelessness Reduction Act, looking at how councils are implementing the new legislation. And it issued a report on its investigations involving council services for ‘looked after children’ – one of the most vulnerable groups in society.

A key part of the Ombudsman’s work in the early part of the year was to lay the foundations for investigating complaints about COVID-19. This involved building a specialist team and closely tracking the rapidly-changing legislation to allow it to come to balanced and proportionate decisions about what happened during this time.

The Ombudsman also refreshed its three-year corporate business plan.

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

“Despite the challenging year for everyone, we continued to remedy injustices, hold councils and care providers to account, and share the learning from our casework. And I’d like to credit the resilience and dedication of our staff for this.

“Councils and care providers had to adapt at pace during the pandemic. However, our advice to them remained the same: good public administration is more important than ever at a time of crisis – and managing complaints effectively is not simply an added bonus.”

In 2020-21, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman dealt with a total of 32,372 complaints and enquiries from the public. Of this, 19,553 people received help on the telephone without requiring a case to be logged.

Of the 12,819 cases the Ombudsman decided, 4,075 were dealt with by an initial investigation, mainly looking at whether the Ombudsman can and will investigate in more detail. It dealt with 3,330 cases through a detailed investigation, of which it upheld 67% (2,243 in number). This has risen from 62% the previous year.

Article date: 09 December 2021