Cheshire East

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Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman annual report reveals impact of pandemic on complaints handling

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman undertook 3,330 detailed investigations between April 2020 and March 2021 - roughly covering the first year of the pandemic - and upheld 2,243 (67%) of them, according to its annual report.

Almost 13,000 complaints and enquiries were advanced beyond a phone call. 5,414 cases were closed after a basic check (such as whether the council has had time to consider the complaint), and 4,075 cases were dealt with by an initial investigation.

The remaining 3,330 cases saw a detailed investigation – the Ombudsman upheld complaints in 67%.

The 12 months from April 2020 saw the Ombudsman’s investigative practices change due to the pandemic. It chose to pause its usual operations for the first three months of the pandemic to reduce pressure on council services.

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As a result, it dealt with 35% fewer cases in 2020-21 compared to the previous year.

Despite the pause at the beginning of the year, the watchdog issued 1,618 service improvement recommendations last year. As a proportion of its total number of recommendations, at 26%, this was higher than its previous year (20%).

Complaints relating to adult care services were the most common at 19% of all cases. Education and Children’s Services complaints followed with 16% of the share of complaints. Housing issues were the next most common at 14% of all complaints received.

In 2020-21, the Ombudsman handled a total of 32,372 complaints and enquiries from the public. Of these, 19,553 people received help on the telephone without requiring a case to be logged.

SIxty-five per cent of investigations were completed in 13 weeks. However, on its longer targets, the Ombudsman reported that it sometimes fell below target with 85% of cases in 26 weeks and 99% of cases in 52 weeks.

There were 28 cases in which the Ombudsman found its decision was not up to the expected standard, after it received 653 requests from complainants to review its decision.

The Ombudsman had a compliance rate from councils and care providers of 99.5%, and there were no instances of the Ombudsman issuing a formal notice of non-compliance.

The LGSCO also set up a specialist team for complaints related to Covid-19, which tracked the rapidly-changing legislation to assist the Ombudsman on decisions.

Over the course of the year, the Ombudsman published multiple reports, including one on the Homelessness Reduction Act and one on the circumstances of children in care.

It also issued a three-year plan detailing the problems the service faced and the powers that it would need to handle them.

The full report can be read here.

Adam Carey

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