The Ombudsman is pretty much the only recourse that remains to residents of the borough if they feel that their case is being ignored or badly handled by staff at Fisher’s Folly. Even then, its powers are strictly limited, the penalties at its disposal minimal, even for repeat offenders such as Croydon Council.
Councils are not even required to publish the detail of cases where the Ombudsman has found against them, allowing to continue the pretence that they are delivering services adequately. In Croydon, this has lead to instances where the same family has had to file repeat complaints after the council has continued to fail them.
The LGO considers submissions on disputes with local authorities over housing matters, planning issues, children and education and adult social care. In a system heavily loaded in favour of the local authorities – who use your Council Tax to pay to defend their actions – a complaint can only be submitted to the Ombudsman after the council has been allowed to “mark its own homework”. Twice.
Because of coronavirus, the Ombudsman paused all casework at the end of March, but today it announced that it “will be resuming all existing casework and taking on new complaints through its website from next week”.
“When we paused our casework in March, it was always a temporary measure in response to a national crisis,” the Ombudsman, Michael King, said today.
“The time is now right for our full service to resume – not because the pandemic is over, but because that initial ‘fire-fighting’ crisis has abated. With this in mind, we will be re-opening to new complaints from Monday, June 29, and restarting those complaints we have previously been unable to pursue.
“I urge anyone who wants to make a new complaint to use our online complaint form, and reserve our helpline for those in most need of help accessing our online service. Like most organisations, we are adapting to working remotely, which is why our helpline will continue on reduced opening hours only. People who already have a complaint in the system should use the direct contact details of their named person.”
The LGO anticipates receiving complaints about events during the covid-19 crisis. They state that, “The law still requires people to have complained to their local council or care provider before they bring their complaint to the Ombudsman.”
And King adds: “Despite the time we have been closed to complaints, we can guarantee that nobody will be denied access to justice as we restart our casework.
“We fully expect, and are preparing for, complaints to come to us about peoples’ experiences of the covid-19 crisis. We will deal with any cases we receive with sensitivity, but we will have to consider the action we take within the wider context of any other public inquiries or investigations that take place.
“We know we have an important role to play on these major national questions. The need to give a voice to public experience has never been more important and we are one of the few genuinely independent bodies, with expertise in these areas, who can shine an impartial and dispassionate light upon recent events.”
The LGO’s complaints form page will not be available until next Monday.
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