Latest Public Sector News

15.07.14

Council tax complaints on the rise – LGO

Complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) about benefits and council tax increased by 26% in the last year, and had the highest ‘uphold rate’ of any type of complaint at 49%, new figures have revealed.

In its review of local government complaints for 2013/14, the LGO stated that it recognised that there have been changes to legislation affecting benefits and tax during the year, but there is no evidence to indicate whether or not there is a link between these changes and the increase in complaints.

A common fault the LGO sees from councils is a failure to consider whether the person complaining may be in a vulnerable situation. Other regular issues involve not notifying people of their appeal rights; administrative errors around payments; not exercising discretion or taking a fixed view; and a failure to follow policies.

Dr Jane Martin, the Local Government Ombudsman, said: “We are releasing this data so that the public has a better understanding of the role of the Ombudsman and the work we do. We hope the information will support better local accountability by helping people make informed choices about local public services; helping councils reflect on their complaint handling; and supporting local scrutiny.

“It is important that the public has a clear route to redress when things go wrong. We want to work with councils to support excellent local complaint handling so that things are put right as quickly as possible.”

For the first time the LGO report provided complaint statistics for each English local authority, all in one place. And, during the last 12 months, out of a total of 20,306 complaints, the LGO registered 18,436 new complaints and enquiries specifically about local authorities.

During this period complaints about local authority adult social care increased by 16%, but housing complaints to the LGO decreased by 39% - though this was an expected result of all new complaints about councils’ role as social landlords becoming the responsibility of the Housing Ombudsman Service in April 2013.

In response to the report, Peter Fleming, chair of the Local Government Association's improvement and innovation board, said: “It is unsurprising that issues around council tax and adult social care are areas of concern for complainants as this is where there has been increasing pressure on budgets and demand for services.

“When government handed councils the responsibility for administering council tax support, it cut hundreds of millions in funding for it. This has left councils facing an impossible dilemma of having to ask those on lower incomes to pay more council tax or make bigger cuts to local services like filling potholes, collecting bins or caring for the elderly.”

But local government minister Brandon Lewis MP said that localising council tax support has given councils stronger incentives to cut fraud and support people to get back into work.

He added: aid: “Research shows the public think councils are delivering better services and value for money than before 2010. However, councils have a duty to protect those most in need of support and this report shows that more can be done. That is why this Government has been working to give families greater financial security.”

(Image: c. Joe Giddens)

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