Ombudsman Doc Martin puts the boot into Croydon’s record

Croydon Council was subject to 109 formal complaints in 2012-2013 – nearly 40 per cent worse than the average level of complaints filed on London boroughs, according to a report from the Local Government Ombudsman.

Croydon Council's £140m new head offices: likely to be subject of further complaints

Croydon Council’s £140m new head offices: likely to be subject of complaints

The figures were contained in an official letter to Croydon’s interim chief executive and part-time entrepreneur, Nathan Elvery, dated July 16, from Dr Jane Martin in her role as Local Government Ombudsman and chair of the Commission for Local Administration in England.

Despite exhaustive checks, Inside Croydon has been unable to find a single mention of the Ombudsman’s review letter on the Croydon Council website.

In Dr Martin’s annual review letter, she wrote: “In 2012/13 we received 109 complaints about your local authority. This compares to the following average number (recognising considerable population variations between authorities of a similar type):

  • District/Borough Councils– 10 complaints
  • Unitary Authorities– 36 complaints
  • Metropolitan Councils– 49 complaints
  • County Councils– 54 complaints
  • London Boroughs– 79 complaints”

That means Croydon had 38 per cent more complaints than the average borough in London. While Croydon is London’s biggest borough by population, that near-40 per cent disparity is considerable.

The LGO’s office does not go in for anything quite so crass as “league tables” of local authority complaints, advising that different sized boroughs and other considerations would make such comparisons odious.

So we delved into the figures for Croydon’s neighbouring outer London authorities.

  • Next door in Tory-run Bromley, they had 63 complaints.
  • Sutton, the incinerators, they got 28.
  • Bexley, 26.
  • Merton, an outer London borough under Labour control, got 41.

    And Croydon, remember, received 109.

We asked Croydon Council for an official response to these figures, and whether they considered that the high level of complaints represented a deeply ingrained dissatisfaction with the council’s services. Croydon Council refused to comment.

Most notable among those complaints about Croydon Council in 2012-2013 which were upheld by the Ombudsman was the case of a young mother and her three children who were left waiting by the borough’s housing department for 10 months. The independent body found Croydon Council responsible for “maladministration causing injustice”.

As we reported in December last year, the woman required emergency housing after her family home had been subject to a break-in and she was attacked by a man with a hammer and had a knife held to her throat. Despite recommendations from the police for the woman and her young children to be re-housed as a matter of urgency, Croydon’s housing department took 10 times as long to act as they are required under government codes.

Ombudsman Jane Martin: keen on openness and transparency

Ombudsman Jane Martin: keen on openness and transparency

In her July letter to Elvery, Dr Martin commented on this case, saying, “The council delayed in making a decision on her application and failed to consider whether the interim
accommodation offered was suitable.

“It also failed to consider whether the offer of bed and breakfast accommodation was suitable in the circumstances of this application when government guidance indicates that it is not except as a last resort, and then only for a maximum period of six weeks.

“I recognised that the council faces significant pressures which make it hard to offer anything other than bed and breakfast accommodation.

“But I considered that the complainant’s circumstances should have been treated as exceptional, which they were not. I recommended that the council should pay the complainant £2,500, review its policies and practices concerning homeless applications and provide training to front line staff taking homeless applications. I am pleased that the council has provided these remedies.”

That distressing case was one of two during the course of the 12-month period in which Croydon Council’s misconduct caused Dr Martin to issue reports against Croydon. “The first,” she wrote to Elvery in July, “was where the council failed to make any educational provision for two children for six months.

“They moved to the area during the school year and the London Boroughs agreed policy is to allocate a school place within 20 school days of receiving an application. However the council neither allocated a place nor made alternative provision. I am pleased that during the investigation the council offered to pay £6,500 to the two children for loss of education at a time when they should have been studying for public examinations and to review its procedures to ensure that it meets its legal duty in future.”

The Local Government Ombudsman is now publishing the final decisions on all complaints about local authorities on its own website – just in case, perhaps, councils such as Croydon fail to publicise their own misconduct on their own websites.

“We consider this to be an important step in increasing our transparency and accountability and we are the first public sector ombudsman to do this,” Dr Martin said.

When we asked Croydon Council’s Nathan Elvery to comment on the Ombudsman’s report, and the high level of complaints about the council which he runs, he refused to provide an answer.


Coming to Croydon


      • Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough – 262,183 page views (Jan-Jun 2013)
      • Post your comments on this article below.
      • If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or local event, please email us with full details at inside.croydon@btinternet.com
Advertisements

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Croydon Council, Nathan Elvery and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply