Croydon Council had seven public complaints upheld against it by the Local Government Ombudsman in the first three months of 2019, research conducted for Inside Croydon can reveal.
The rulings resulted in several apologies from the council, and hundreds of pounds in compensation being paid out.
Not one of the Ombudsman’s rulings against Croydon has been published on the council’s website.
Appeals to the Ombudsman are notoriously difficult to lodge by members of the public, who are usually required to go through at least two time-consuming rounds of internal reviews and obfuscation and delay conducted by the local authority itself into its the performance of its own staff (effectively, marking their own home work).
And the scope of what the Ombudsman may, or may not, investigate is also strictly limited.
So for Croydon Council to have its wrists slapped on seven occasions between January and March this year ought to be a matter of grave concern for its £220,000 per year chief exec Jo “We’re Not Stupid” Negrini.
The LGO office issues regular updates on the outcome of its deliberations over complaints against local authorities in England and Wales. Because of the time-consuming nature of the complaints process, some of the rulings issued so far this year will relate to complaints going back to 2018 or 2017, at least.
The Ombudsman delivers verdicts in a number of categories, including planning, housing, children and education and adult social care. Of the rulings delivered against Croydon Council by the Ombudsman so far in 2019, three relate to its children’s services, and four judgements were over poor service in adult social care.
Given that Croydon has spent millions of pounds in the past 18 months in efforts to improve its failing children’s services department, which Ofsted inspectors rated as “inadequate” in 2017 when finding some children in the council’s care to be at risk, this number of complaints upheld by the Ombudsman in such a brief period will not be reassuring for the borough’s “corporate parents”: its 70 elected councillors.
Indeed, one of the Ombudsman’s rulings delivered against Croydon Council this year involves a case where a mother had previously had her complaint upheld, but Croydon had failed to act effectively on the Ombudsman’s recommendations.
The case involves a child with SEND – special educational needs and disability – an area which many parents and carers relate their local authority has regularly failed them.
In its summary of its latest decision against Croydon Council in this case, the Ombudsman says, “Ms X complained about the way the council dealt with her son who has Special Educational Needs and who was permanently excluded from school.
“The Ombudsman found the council to be at fault because it failed to provide him with suitable education while he was out of school. It also failed to agree with Ms X how a financial payment awarded by the Ombudsman as part of a previous complaint would be spent. The council agreed to the Ombudsman’s recommendations to remedy the injustice caused to Ms X and her son.”
The limitations of the Ombudsman system are such that the case of “Ms X” has effectively been handed over again to the people who failed her and her son, the council, to remedy. Again.
The Ombudsman’s limited powers saw it advise of a similar course of action in another case, even though in this instance a young woman was at risk of being subjected to harm when known to social services. The outcome may be seen by many to be deeply unsatisfactory.
The Ombudsman’s ruling says, “Miss X complains the council failed to respond properly to reports that she was being harmed and to act to protect her when she was known to social services as a child, which left her to suffer unnecessary harm. The council will investigate the complaint, so the Ombudsman’s investigation is discontinued.”
Other summaries give just a sense of the long and unrelenting struggle over many years which some residents have to endure to get any effective action from Croydon Council.
In one of the Adult Social Care rulings issued against Croydon between January and March, the Ombudsman stated: “Mr and Mrs X complain about the care provided to their son, Mr Y. They say the Council and care provider did not meet all his needs for over two years and failed to deal with their complaint about this. The Ombudsman finds fault which caused lost opportunities, distress, time and trouble. The council has agreed to apologise and pay Mr Y £750 and Mr and Mrs X £350. It will also review its processes, complete a new assessment and reconsider moving him.”
In another, the Ombudsman said, “Miss Y complains on behalf of her mother, Mrs X, that the council has failed to annually review Mrs X’s care needs and send copies of the assessments and care plans once completed. Miss Y also complains about the council’s management of Mrs X’s direct payment account. The Ombudsman finds the council failed to annually review Mrs X’s needs; this caused her distress which the council will remedy with a payment of £600. The Ombudsman also finds the council failed to monitor Mrs X’s direct payments and provide clear and up to date advice.”
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