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Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman reveals more improvements directed to councils in past year than ever before, while complaints about Education and Children’s Services have highest uphold rate

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman directed more improvements to local councils in the past year than ever before, its annual review of complaints has revealed.

The report is published with detailed data for every English authority on how they perform against similar organisations.

The Ombudsman said that although its role is to remedy individual people’s problems, it was increasingly looking at how it can make sweeping recommendations on the back of those complaints to help councils learn and improve services.

The report, which can be downloaded here, showed that in 2021-22, the Ombudsman made 1,848 service improvement recommendations, with councils complying in 99.7% of cases.

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However, there were seven cases where the LGSCO was not satisfied that the authority had complied with suggested recommendations.

In this situation a range of actions are considered, including issuing a public interest report and opening a new investigation into the authority’s failure to provide the agreed remedy. Non-compliance is also reported publicly.

The complaint statistics for 2021-22 showed that the Ombudsman service continues to uphold around two thirds of complaints it investigates, with complaints about Education and Children’s Services having the highest uphold rate at 77%.

In one case, a council insisted a family pay a top-up fee for a relative’s care home place, despite not offering a place where they did not need to pay extra. Following the Ombudsman’s investigation, the council reviewed its processes and reimbursed a further 29 families.

In another case, the Ombudsman found a council was not paying friends and family foster carers the correct allowance. It asked the council to look at whether other foster carers were being similarly underpaid.

Six other families received their missed support, and the council put in place changes to ensure this would not happen again, the Ombudsman reported.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “One complaint can have immense power to change things for the better, and we’re increasingly focusing on to how we, and the local authorities we investigate, take the learning from those complaints and improve service provision.

“The vast majority of councils agree to the recommendations we make and see them as common-sense ways of providing better services for people in their area. However, this can only happen when councils act swiftly when they have committed to do so.”

Mr King added: “Unfortunately we are seeing some councils taking longer to make those changes, which put them at risk of making the same mistakes again. In 18% of cases we found compliance was late.

“While I welcome the professional way in which the majority of councils continue to work with us, I would urge those authorities who are having problems to pay close attention to this final, but crucial, step in the complaints process.”

Cllr Peter Fleming, Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Improvement and Innovation Board, said: “Councils continue to deliver the crucial services that communities rely on, while also managing the ongoing cost of living crisis and the challenges it brings to their areas.

“We are pleased to see the recognition of the important role that elected members play in the integrity of the complaints process, and it is positive that in 99.7% of case councils are implementing recommendations made, showing that local authorities are determined to make sure these issues do not occur again.”

“Local government is one of the most trusted parts of the public sector with polling consistently showing high satisfaction rates. Councils are always striving to do the best for their residents and deliver first class services.”

Lottie Winson

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