Guidance on remedies

Part 1

Introduction

Updated May 2024

Our approach to remedies

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman was established some 50 years ago, to conduct independent and impartial investigations of complaints from people claiming injustice caused by organisational fault.

Our investigations provide a unique window on citizen’s experience of public services. We are committed to extracting the maximum possible value from each investigation where we find fault. We do this by considering, wherever possible, what organisational learning can be drawn when things go wrong and what needs to be done to stop the same mistakes happening again.

This guidance sets out principles that guide our development of recommendations. It ensures we work consistently while recognising each case is unique, with individual needs and circumstances. As well as guiding our work, we hope it will continue to be useful as guidance for organisations when developing policies on local resolution of complaints.

Over the 50 years of our existence, the public’s idea of what an ‘Ombudsman’ does has changed and evolved. Familiarity with other complaint resolution organisations and advocacy across the public and private sectors has influenced expectations and behaviours, particularly regarding redress.

While our work has likewise evolved, our core principles remain unchanged.

We provide remedies for injustice, not compensation, punishment or fines.

When someone has suffered an injustice, we try to put them back in the position they would have been had that error not occurred. Our focus is on restoring services that have been denied and taking practical steps to put things right. Where that isn’t possible, we will try to think of creative remedies that acknowledge the impact of faults. 

Where that takes the form of a payment, it is often a modest amount whose value is intended to be largely symbolic, rather than purely financial. It is not our role to assess economic losses or award compensation, and we direct people to the courts where that is their primary goal. And, as a body focussed on individual justice and institutional improvement, we do not impose punitive fines for errors or take action to punish people.

We don’t bargain, compromise or negotiate to reach a best or least bad outcome for all. Instead, we decide what injustice has probably resulted from fault we identify and, then, using this guidance, objectively decide what is an appropriate remedy for that injustice. Where possible when we find significant injustice has occurred, we aim to put the person back in the position they would have been, but for the fault.

Understanding individual injustice enables us to fix problems for many others.

We make thousands of recommendations every year, based on what we have seen in our investigations, to help improve services, training, and policies. We also have the power to follow up on serious concerns we come across during an investigation, for example, if a large number of other people are all unfairly affected by a fault we’ve uncovered. This power enables us to address problems we’ve seen even where those people haven’t complained. This is a growing part of our work. This guidance sets out advice to develop the most effective service improvement recommendations.

We are not an enforcement agency.

We are driven by a desire to make things better in a collaborative way. Some say the Ombudsman needs “sharper teeth” in the form of legally binding powers, so our recommendations can “stick”. But our recommendations are already complied with in almost every case. We do not need extra “teeth” that might conflict, for councils, with the sovereignty of local democracy. Our model works by listening, investigating robustly, and getting it right.

Sometimes the most powerful remedy we can offer is our decision itself. Our decisions have moral force because they represent a credible and compelling analysis. And we achieve effective outcomes by operating in partnership with others as part of a wider system of democratic accountability.

We use the media to publicly highlight stories about the rare exceptions when organisations do not comply. This lets others judge those organisations and their leaders. And we can escalate those isolated cases to regulators, locally elected members, or Parliament to take further action.

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