Children and Education Services Under Fire: Ombudsman Issues Annual Complaints Review

Dorset Council

Launched this past week, the Ombudsman’s annual review of complaints for the South West has detailed its recommendations to better council services. In fact, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has identified more improvements for local councils than ever before.

Furthermore, whilst the Ombudsman’s role is to rectify individual complaints, it is increasingly focused on how these can be used to make comprehensive recommendations to assist councils in improving their services. Over the past year, 1,848 service improvements were recommended nationally, with 99.7% of councils complying.

However, across the South West, 60% of complaints were upheld – a decrease from 63% last year. Looking at individual services, 21% of complaints were about Children and Education: the highest of any council-provided services. Additionally, Children and Education complaints had the highest uphold rate at 72%.

On a more positive note, the South West’s Corporate and Other Services performed the best, with the lowest uphold rate of 22%. This is especially notable since the England-wide average for Corporate and Other Services is 62%, marking the South West as the best performing region. Yet, the South West had the highest proportion of its complaints about Planning nationally: 20% compared to the England-wide figure of 14%.

Overall, these figures might not seem to hold much value. However, it is when they are implemented to provide amendments to local services that their influence is greatest. For example, the Ombudsman found a council was incorrectly paying the allowance for friends and family foster carers. After asking the council to look into this matter, six additional families received their missing support, with the council implementing changes to ensure such a mistake is never repeated.

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.

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.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman

For further information about the Ombudsman’s findings, please view this interactive online map to find your local council’s data.

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