Council complaint stats released by ombudsman

Five complaints were upheld against Bucks County Council
Five complaints were upheld against Bucks County Council

An ombudsman upheld six complaints against the councils serving Aylesbury Vale during the last year, according a new report.

The Local Government Ombudsman carries out a ‘fair and independent’ final review if residents are still unhappy with the outcome of an authority’s internal complaints process.

In a report released this week it said it received a total of 108 complaints against Bucks County Council from April 2014 to March 2015, carrying out detailed investigations on 12 of these, and finding fault in five (it had upheld seven in the previous year).

One upheld case regarded care agency workers contracted by the council failing to leave water for an elderly client. When the client’s daughter complained, the council told her that carers always left a drink out for mother, but this was not true. The ombudsman recommended that the council apologise and learn lessons from the case.

Another upheld complaint concerned a taxi driver whose firm takes a group of children with special educational needs to and from school on behalf of the council.

An allegation was made against the driver that he had an ‘inappropriate’ conversation with the children, and the councl suspended him from the service with immediate effect. An investigation found that he had acted inappropriately but the children did not suffer significant harm, and that he had to undergo a training course before being allowed to drive the children again. The driver complained the investigation took too long, resulting in a loss to his income. The ombudsman found ‘some fault’ in the council’s communications with the driver, but ‘no injustice’ to him that had not already been remedied.

The ombudsman received 21 complaints about Aylesbury Vale District Council, but looked in detail at only three of these, upholding just one (none had been upheld in the previous year).

This involved the authority pursuing a council tax recovery against a resident, including sending a bailiff to her home, when she had an application for council tax reduction still outstanding. The council was told to remove the charges against her, which it did.

Nationally, the ombudsman registered 18,211 complaints and enquiries about councils, and upheld 46% of all those complaints where a detailed investigation was carried out.

Local government ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin, said: “We hope that by sharing our data and knowledge from complaints, we can help promote local accountability for actions, thereby allowing better scrutiny of services.

“Our survey’s findings point to a local complaints system that is under real pressure. Complaint handling teams are having to do ‘more with less’ and the process is not as accessible and timely as it should be.

“More investment into complaints, both in terms of resources and developing an open culture, is a good value way of driving service improvement – and local government needs to challenge itself on this question.

“Complaints must be seen as a positive. They can provide an early warning system for issues and are an indicator of public sentiment.”