Complaint investigations increasingly finding systemic problems in social care

Watchdog’s annual review highlights “widening cracks” in complaints systems as investigations data suggests councils are responsible for systemic problems rather than one-off mistakes with local Government services.

03/08/21

Complaint investigations increasingly finding systemic problems in social care

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) has published its annual review of complaints over the past year, highlighting “widening cracks” in the way local authorities handle complaints regarding social services.

The data shows the Ombudsman has upheld more than two thirds (67%) of all complaints – continuing an upward trend since it started publishing its uphold rate. The data showed that over the past 12 months, the Ombudsman found fault in more than three quarters of complaints investigated about Education and Children’s Services (77%).

The Ombudsman’s office was closed to new complaints at the height of the first COVID-19 lockdown, and so registered fewer complaints than recent years. Despite this, however, the watchdog still received 11,830 complaints and enquiries from members of the public.

The Ombudsman says its investigations undertaken over the past year have led to more than 3,100 recommendations to put things right for individuals. There were also nearly 1,500 recommendations for councils to improve their services for others – such as revising procedures and training staff – a higher proportion of the total number of recommendations than previous years, suggesting the watchdog’s investigations are increasingly finding systemic problems rather than one-off mistakes with local government services.

The Ombudsman says it is seeing high levels of compliance with its recommendations, too with councils carrying out its recommendations in 99.5% of cases.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said this year seems to have been the most difficult for local authorities.

“While the way local authorities dealt with the pressures of COVID-19 is still being played out in our casework, early indications suggest it is only widening the cracks that were already there, and has deepened our concerns about the status of complaints services within councils. These concerns are not new and cannot be wholly attributed to the trials of the pandemic,” King said.

“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.”

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