Viewpoint: One for all – lessons learned from the LGO’s annual review of complaints

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The Local Government Ombudsman was set up to remedy individual injustice, but very often we find that improving services for one person can have a positive impact on many others, writes Local Government Ombudsman and Chair of the Commission for Local Administration, Dr Jane Martin

We have just published our 2016 annual review of Local Government Complaints. This covers all types of complaint received at LGO other than those about providers of social care which are included in a separate report later in the year. The review provides statistical data about all English local authorities based on the annual letters sent to each one in July. It also gives some case study examples of the types of complaint we investigate. This year the review particularly looks at the impact of our work and highlights the remedies we have recommended where we have found fault. I am very pleased again this year that councils have complied with our recommendations in nearly every case.

Last year we made 3,529 recommendations to remedy injustice. Many of our decisions make recommendations to improve local authority policy and procedure – in the last year we made 633 such recommendations. Examples include actions such as reviewing school transport policy or training staff on how to respond properly to safeguarding alerts. These policy changes demonstrate the widespread positive impact that our investigations have and how we improve services not just for the person who came to us, but for others in the area.

But how does your authority compare? We have included separate statistics for each local authority, which you can use to compare with similar authorities within your region or nationally.

So what’s new?

This is the first year we have sent our annual review to the chairs of local scrutiny committee, as well as council leaders and link officers; we hope this will mean that our data is seen by as many interested parties as possible.

Over the past three years we have increased the amount of information we provide to local authorities in the annual review. We do this to make the complaints process – and its outcomes – as transparent and open as possible.

Another new item we have included in our annual letter to each council is information on where we have agreed with the remedies an authority has already proposed. This provides assurance that the authority has dealt properly with a complaint before it came to us, and put things right.

What can you do with his information?

Again this year we are offering a number of questions councillors can ask of their authorities to ensure that they are taking the opportunity to learn from any complaints they receive. These ‘questions for scrutiny’ include asking about your council’s signposting to its own complaints procedure, whether it reports outcomes and lessons learned from the complaints it receives and whether it actively welcomes feedback from service users about how the complaints themselves are managed.

I would urge councillors to use the data we provide to ensure that the complaints councils receive – whether we uphold them or not – are used to scrutinise services and look at how their services can be constantly improved for the benefits of all service users.

I would also encourage anyone with an interest in improving local authorities to take a look at our statistics, ask searching questions of their authorities and make sure they are gaining as much as possible from this valuable but freely available feedback.

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