Watchdogs have criticised Bristol City Council for sending a complainant a “brief, poorly written, unprofessional” apology which “undermined its value”. In another case investigated by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO), the local authority “failed to reassess a person’s care and support needs” in the time agreed.
The ombudsman said in its annual review that the council’s “disappointing” response to a finding of maladministration in both instances was “not what we would expect”. But a City Hall officer told an audit committee meeting that the authority had made great strides since the previous damning assessment and had complied with 100 per cent of the LGO’s recommended remedies to complaints it upheld between April 1, 2021, and March 31 this year.
In a letter to city council chief executive Mike Jackson, Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman chairman Michael King said: “It is disappointing that, in two cases, your council’s response to our recommendations was not what we would expect. In one case, an apology was agreed as part of the remedy.
“However, the apology by the council was brief, poorly written, and appeared unprofessional, all of which undermined its value. In a second case, while elements of the remedy were completed on time, the council failed to reassess a person’s care and support needs within the four weeks it had agreed.
“This further impacted the person who had complained to us. While I acknowledge the pressures councils are under, delayed and poor-quality remedies add to the injustice already suffered by complainants.
“I invite the council to consider the steps it can take to ensure good quality and timely remedies in future.” The annual letter said 22 of the 34 cases investigated in 2021/22 were upheld compared with 19 out of 95 the previous year.
It said the council provided a satisfactory remedy before the complaint reached the ombudsman in 23 per cent of cases that were eventually upheld, almost double the England average of 12 per cent for similar organisations. A report to the committee said the authority dealt with 6,327 stage-one complaints over the 12 months to March 31, giving an escalation rate in upheld cases to the LGO of just 0.34 per cent.
It said: “Officers have reviewed the report and findings produced by the ombudsman. In reference to the comments made about two cases, there isn’t sufficient detail provided in the letter for us to identify which cases are being referred to.
“The letter itself also doesn’t provide any guidance or further instruction on ways that the council can improve. We have reviewed the LGO website and the council’s performance in responding to LGO remedies is 100 per cent.
“We will look to follow this up with the ombudsman in due course. Officers propose that no specific actions are to be taken from this letter, but work will continue to improve our complaints procedures.
“Wider training for staff within the council is being conducted to improve the initial stage-one response, which has been well received by staff. In the LGO letters from the preceding two years, concern was expressed about the level of engagement with the LGO.
“There is no comment on these matters in this year’s letter. The council has tightened its processes around complaint handling with the LGO, including increasing the resources allocated to our complaints procedure.
“Officers are satisfied that the concerns from previous years raised by the LGO have been appropriately addressed.” A council officer told members: “It’s a much-improved performance from the last letter we received.
“We have actually managed to meet 100 per cent of the remedies provided by the LGO.”
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