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Annual Complaints Letter 6 Sept 2007

Taken from Local Government Ombudsman Annual Letter to Camden Council Year ended March 2007

The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) investigates complaints by members of the public who consider that they have been caused injustice through administrative fault by local authorities and certain other bodies.

The LGO also uses the findings from investigation work to help authorities provide better public services through initiatives such as special reports, training and annual letters.

Reports and local settlements
We use the term ‘local settlement’ to describe the outcome of a complaint where, during the course of our investigation, the Council takes, or agrees to take, some action which we consider is a satisfactory response to the complaint and the investigation does not need to be completed. These form a significant proportion of the complaints we determine.
When we complete an investigation we must issue a report.

Last year I issued no reports against your Council, but I did agree
58 local settlements.

This was 43% of those cases which were within my jurisdiction and which had not come to me before the Council had been able to consider and respond to the complaint. Nationally these comprised 28% of complaints, so it was more common than normal that some action to remedy the complaint seemed appropriate. In 2005/06 the figure for Camden was 36%. So, such cases also became more prevalent.
This causes me concern.

I agreed local settlements on twelve complaints about anti-social behaviour.
In one case the Council inappropriately housed a person with mental health problems in the flat below the complainants, causing significant nuisance to them. I also found delay by the Council in investigating neighbour nuisance problems. I welcome the Council’s agreement to my recommendations in relation to these complaints, but again the Council may wish to explore the common themes to see whether procedural changes are required.

Your Council’s complaints procedure and handling of complaints
I should like to draw your attention to one complaint involving bailiffs where the Council said that, because they were not employees of the Council, their actions could not be considered through your complaints procedure. As there was no doubt that the bailiffs were acting on behalf of the Council, there seemed no reason why these matters should not have been considered through the complaints procedure. I should be grateful for confirmation that the Council’s practice here has changed.

LGO developments
We have just issued a special report that draws on our experience of dealing with complaints about planning applications for phone masts considered under the prior approval system, which can be highly controversial. We recommend simple measures that councils can adopt to minimise the problems that can occur.

A further special report will be published in July focusing on the difficulties that can be encountered when complaints are received by local authorities about services delivered through a partnership. Local partnerships and citizen redress sets out our advice and guidance on how these problems can be overcome
by adopting good governance arrangements that include an effective complaints protocol.

The LGO received 94 complaints about Camdens Housing Department for this period, 46% of the overall total of 212 complaints.