The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) has called for greater powers to increase its jurisdiction across local government, strengthen its ability to handle adult social care and education complaints, and bolster public services through improved complaints handling.
The service called for the reforms in its Triennial review, published today, in which it claimed it was "hamstrung" by outdated legislation "rooted in a 1970s conception of public concerns which does not match contemporary public expectations".
The document, which is part of the Ombudsman's requirement to review its legislation every three years, listed four main areas in which it believes reform is needed.
Its first recommendation was for an update to the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction to guarantee it accurately reflects all relevant local government arrangements and that access to redress is ensured for all that need it.
To achieve this, the Ombudsman said a pilot programme working with the National Association of Local Councils, the government and volunteer local authorities is needed to develop a strategy for country-wide implementation.
Currently, the LGSCO cannot handle complaints of issues at town councils. The review said this was of increasing concern considering the growing numbers of town councils and the expansion of services they offer.
Explicit powers for the Ombudsman to investigate complaints about councillor conduct should also be introduced, according to the proposals. These powers would include a new review system that complainants could access if the local complaints system had been exhausted.
Furthermore, citizens should be able to bring complaints about maladministration where the person has not suffered personal injustice, but where injustice exists, the review said.
Secondly, the Ombudsman said its powers needed to be extended to strengthen the public voice in adult social care.
To achieve this, the Ombudsman said it should have the power to consider complaints about all aspects of social care in every setting. This would include mandatory signposting by care providers to the Ombudsman, support from the Department of Health and Social Care to provide training to care providers, and a legal obligation for care providers to produce an annual review of complaints.
Additionally, proactive investigation powers to look into issues for those that do not have the capacity to complain should be provided.
Thirdly, the Ombudsman proposed an expansion of its powers to support a stronger public voice in education.
The review asked for reform to bring academies and free schools into the powers it already has for 'maintained' schools.
It also called upon the government to provide powers that would give parents, pupils, and carers the right to an independent Ombudsman investigation of complaints that their school has not adequately resolved.
The final recommendation centred on strengthening public services and care markets through improved complaints handling - this would be aided, the review said, by designating the Ombudsman as the statutory Complaints Standards Authority for adult social care.
In addition, the Ombudsman outlined a desire to work with the Housing Ombudsman to develop a joint 'Code for Good Complaint Handling', setting out basic standards to apply to all councils and the services they provide. This should be accompanied by a simple self-assessment process requiring councils to confirm they are adhering to these standards, the Ombudsman added.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: "We are increasingly seeing new models of local government that sit outside of our jurisdiction, and people are coming to us with legitimate complaints that we can't consider.
"We think now is the time to renew and refresh our legislation to ensure we are meeting the needs of service users and the sectors at large. The changes we propose are simple and achievable improvements to strengthen and modernise a system that works well, rather than a radical re-design. If we seize this opportunity now, I believe we can strengthen the voice of the public in every community, in every part of this country."