Council performs below average in remedying complaints, data shows

Redbridge Town Hall

Redbridge Council provided a satisfactory remedy before the complaint reached the ombudsman in just five per cent of upheld cases between April 2020 and March 2021. - Credit: Ken Mears

New data has revealed that Redbridge Council performs worse than similar local authorities when it comes to resolving complaints.

The data, which covers the period between April 1 2020 and March 31 2021, was published yesterday by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) as part of its annual review of local government complaints.

The council performed below average on providing satisfactory remedies to complaints before they reached the ombudsman.

The ombudsman said that providing a suitable remedy for a complaint before it comes to them is a good sign an authority “can accept fault and offer appropriate ways to put things right”.

They found that in only five per cent of upheld cases the council had provided a satisfactory remedy before the complaint reached them, compared with 12pc in similar authorities.

When it came to compliance with ombudsman recommendations, the council also fell short of the average.

In 15 compliance outcomes, the ombudsman was satisfied the council had successfully implemented their recommendations in 93pc of cases.

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According to the ombudsman, compliance rates below 100pc are relatively rare and the average in similar authorities is 99pc.

But the proportion of complaints against the council that were upheld by the ombudsman was lower than the average for similar authorities, with 20 out of 31 (65pc) complaints upheld.

This compares with 72pc in similar authorities over the same period. 

In the previous year, 82pc of complaints against the borough were upheld, where the average in similar authorities was 72pc.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the ombudsman did not accept new complaints and stopped investigating existing cases between March and June 2020, resulting in a lower number of complaints than in a typical year.

Michael King, ombudsman, said that this year had been the “most difficult for local authorities” since they began issuing annual reviews seven years ago.

He said that Covid-19 has “deepened our concerns about the status of complaints services within councils”.

He added: “These concerns are not new and cannot be wholly attributed to the trials of the pandemic.

“I am concerned about the general erosion to the visibility, capacity and status of complaint functions within councils.

“Listening to public complaints is an essential part of a well-run and properly accountable local authority, committed to public engagement, learning, and improvement. 

“I know the best councils still understand this and put local democracy and good complaints handling at the forefront of their services.”

Redbridge Council has been involved in disputes with the LGSCO this year.

It was criticised by Mr King last month for its delay in accepting his recommendation to pay £1,700 to the family of Alex Busk for failing to carry out a previously agreed remedy and removing some healthcare from his Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP). 

The council disputed the ombudsman’s conclusions in this case, but ultimately opted to pay the money.

Alex's parents Chris and Mary Busk, from South Woodford, had successfully complained to the ombudsman six times and won three tribunals on his behalf over a 15 year period.

In a separate incident, officers suggested that the council should refuse to pay £9,800 awarded by the ombudsman to the family of an 11-year-old boy who missed a year of school because the council did not arrange home tutoring for him.

The council insisted it was following medical advice that the boy was too ill for home tutoring, although it ultimately decided to pay the money, with councillors stating that they were “uncomfortable” refusing to do so.

When contacted for a response to the ombudsman's annual review, Redbridge Council did not respond.

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