Ombudsmen Report Increase In Social Services Complaints

Letters published by the Local Government Ombudsmen provide an impartial assessment of every council’s performance in dealing with Ombudsman-related complaints. The ‘annual letters’, an ongoing part of the Ombudsmen’s work to maximise the value of their investigations and help councils improve services, are publicly available for the first time this year on their website – Published at the same time is the Annual Review 2005/06, which highlights further development in the last year in the Ombudsman’s approach to delivering public value by providing an accessible service, delivering quality and timely decisions, and contributing to the improvement in the administration of local authority services.

“Our investigations give us a unique perspective on the relationship between public bodies and many citizens, and we want to maximise the benefit of our investigative work,” say the three Ombudsmen in their Review.

Also in the Annual Review, the Ombudsmen report on their performance during the year ended 31 March 2006, and key areas of developmental activity.

The overall number of complaints received in 2005/06 of 18,626 remained broadly the same as the previous year. Planning, social services and education experienced growth, while housing benefit complaints continued to decline in number. The 23 per cent increase in education complaints was entirely due to an increase in the complaints about school admissions.

Decisions taken in the year totalled 10,991 after excluding premature complaints and those outside the Ombudsmen’s control. The Ombudsmen asked local authorities to provide a remedy in 27 per cent of this number – the same proportion as the previous year. They recommended payments of £1.67m, compared with £1.1m in 2004/05.

Further developmental activity, in addition to publishing annual letters, includes:

• beginning work on a major project to provide a single point of first contact that people have with the Ombudsmen’s offices, providing more advice and engaging them as active participants in resolving their complaint;

• publishing a special Casebook on complaints from children and young people, along with a leaflet for advisers and advocates who work with children and young people outlining the special help the Ombudsmen can provide;

• forging relationships with voluntary organisations more generally, especially advice agencies, so as to improve awareness and understanding of the Ombudsmen’s service among them and their clients;

• working with the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman to seek powers to carry out joint investigations and issue joint reports and guidance; and

• increasing the amount of training provided to local authorities in effective complaint handling to a total of more than 100 courses run in the year.

The Ombudsmen also published the sixth in their series of special reports. These reports draw out lessons from specific areas of investigation. This one concerned Memorial safety in local authority cemeteries, and was published in conjunction with the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, making it the first joint report.