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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 05/09/2006
OMBUDSMAN INVESTIGATIONS INTO COMPLAINTS MADE ABOUT WAVERLEY’S SERVICES IN 2005/06



Summary & Purpose
This report addresses the issues raised in the Ombudsman’s annual letter to Waverley for the year 2005/06, and includes information about the types of complaint made to the Ombudsman about Waverley’s services over the past five years, Waverley’s approach in responding to such complaints and the eventual outcomes. The report also contains a brief analysis of the complaints received directly by Waverley in the 2005/06.

Consideration of Ombudsman complaints is a matter that currently falls with the Terms of Reference of the Council’s Standards Committee, with the report on the Ombudsman’s annual letter being presented initially to the Standards Committee before being reported to the Executive. However, to avoid this double-handling and because Ombudsman complaints concern management of the Council’s core business, it is thought more appropriate that responsibility pass to the Council’s Executive with the report being considered by them, and for the terms of reference of the Standards Committee to be amended accordingly, subject to Council’s approval.

This report is also relevant to the review of the Council’s formal complaints procedure that is currently being undertaken by the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee, and it is therefore proposed that it should be referred to that Committee as an annexe to the report on the Complaints Review.

APPENDIX E

WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL

EXECUTIVE – 5TH SEPTEMBER 2006

________________________________________________________________________
Title:
OMBUDSMAN INVESTIGATIONS INTO COMPLAINTS MADE ABOUT WAVERLEY’S SERVICES IN 2005/06

[Wards Affected: All]
________________________________________________________________________
Summary and Purpose

This report addresses the issues raised in the Ombudsman’s annual letter to Waverley for the year 2005/06, and includes information about the types of complaint made to the Ombudsman about Waverley’s services over the past five years, Waverley’s approach in responding to such complaints and the eventual outcomes. The report also contains a brief analysis of the complaints received directly by Waverley in the 2005/06.

Consideration of Ombudsman complaints is a matter that currently falls with the Terms of Reference of the Council’s Standards Committee, with the report on the Ombudsman’s annual letter being presented initially to the Standards Committee before being reported to the Executive. However, to avoid this double-handling and because Ombudsman complaints concern management of the Council’s core business, it is thought more appropriate that responsibility pass to the Council’s Executive with the report being considered by them, and for the terms of reference of the Standards Committee to be amended accordingly, subject to Council’s approval.

This report is also relevant to the review of the Council’s formal complaints procedure that is currently being undertaken by the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee, and it is therefore proposed that it should be referred to that Committee as an annexe to the report on the Complaints Review.
________________________________________________________________________
Environmental implications

There are no environmental implications arising from this report.

Resource and legal implications

The Ombudsman’s annual letter has expressed concern about the length of time taken by the Council to respond to the Ombudsman’s initial enquiries. There could be staffing implications arising from the Council’s response to the Ombudsman. Details are included elsewhere on this agenda.


Introduction

1. The Local Government Ombudsman’s annual letter for 2005/06 is attached for Members’ consideration at Annexe 1 - without attachments because all the statistical information has been provided in the body of this report. The various issues raised in this letter are addressed in the body of this report.
2. To enable Members to understand the role of the Local Government Ombudsman, attached as Annexe 2 is a summary of the remit, work processes and powers of the Ombudsman. Nature and volume of complaints received by the Ombudsman about Waverley’s services 3. The following table gives the categorisation of complaints received by the Ombudsman, by subject, since 2001/02. The number of complaints received about the Planning service reflects the situation nationally in respect of district councils.
Waverley’s approach in dealing with Ombudsman enquiries 4. Dealing with Ombudsman enquiries can be extremely time-consuming since the information often has to be obtained from various sources. The Council’s Corporate Complaints Officer undertakes the role of both the investigation and the preparation of a response, which is often complex, to all Ombudsman complaints. It is important to provide a comprehensive response to the initial enquiries since this not only gives the Ombudsman confidence in the Council’s management of complaints, but also avoids the workload attached to ongoing correspondence and investigation. In his annual letter to Waverley for the year 2005/06 (see Annexe 1) the Ombudsman commented as follows:
5. However such an approach, coupled with limited resources available to the Corporate Complaints Officer and officers in the service departments, has meant that the Council continues to be unable to meet the target set by the Ombudsman for responses to initial enquiries to be provided within 28 calendar days (increased from 21 days last year in response to local authorities’ concerns about the difficulties of meeting the original target). Set out below are two tables, the first giving the average local authority response times in 2005/06, and the second setting out Waverley’s response times in 2005/06 and in the four previous years. (i) Average local authority response times 2005/06

Type of authority<= 28 days
%
29-35 days
%
>= 36 days
%
District Councils53.225.321.5
Unitary Authorities41.334.823.9
Metropolitan Authorities41.730.527.8
County Councils55.926.517.6
London Boroughs39.439.421.2
National Park Authorities100.00.00.0

(ii) Waverley’s response times for the period 2001/02 to 2005/06

Year No of first
enquiries
Average number of
days to respond
2005/06473.3
2004/051050.8
2003/041251.7
2002/03755.7
2001/021546.6

6. In his annual letter for 2005/06 the Ombudsman has expressed concern about the response times. As will be seen from the fifth paragraph on page 2 of his letter, while the Ombudsman accepts that officers have worked extremely hard to provide comprehensive answers to his initial enquiries, he remains critical of the response times, which he feels do not provide a reasonable service to either the Ombudsman or the complainants. 7. It is indeed regrettable that Waverley’s performance in meeting the Ombudsman’s target of 28 days has worsened over the past year. However, when considering the Ombudsman’s comments, Members will wish to bear in mind the following points. 8. The response time of 101 days referred to in the Ombudsman’s letter relates to the time taken to respond to a complex complaint about the Council’s failure to take action in respect of the increasingly noisy activities at Dunsfold Park. The investigation of this complaint resulted in the preparation of the very lengthy response, which involved many officers across a number of disciplines, and progress was hampered by the intervening Christmas period. 9. The average response time for the remaining three Ombudsman enquiries in 2005/06 was in fact considerably less that 101 days (48.6 days). 10. Members need to be aware, however, that in a number of cases there has been some delay in the time taken by the Ombudsman’s office to pursue their initial enquiries with the Council. For example, the Dunsfold complaint which has been highlighted by the Ombudsman, was received by the Ombudsman’s office on 23 August 2005, yet the Council did not receive the Ombudsman’s request for comments on the complaint until 18 October 2005, a delay of 56 days. If the Council had received the complaint at an earlier date, it is quite probable that, while the 28-day target would not have been met, the response time would have been significantly less, particularly since it would have been dealt with before the Christmas holiday. 11. Another key factor that impacts on workload, is that the Ombudsman’s initial enquiries often come in ‘batches’ which makes work planning for those involved in dealing with complaints in Waverley, very difficult. For example, between 20th March and 12th May this year, Waverley received six complaints from the Ombudsman’s office, all requiring a detailed response within 28 days. Responses to each of these complaints have now been completed and in respect of two of these complaints, the response times were 27 days and 39 days respectively. 12. However, notwithstanding the above comments, it is clear that there are capacity issues that need to be addressed in order to provide more timely responses to the Ombudsman’s initial enquiries, particularly on matters involving the Planning Department. This matter is addressed in a separate report elsewhere on the Executive’s agenda.

Outcome of complaints made about Waverley’s services

13. There have been no findings of maladministration or injustice in respect of complaints made about Waverley in the past fifteen years. Details of the determinations made over the past five years are set out in the following table.

YearMI* repsLS*M* repsNM* repsNo* malOmb* discOutside jurisdicPremature complaintsTotal excl prematureTotal
2005/06030063251419
2004/05050037**4374956
2003/040500120151823
2002/03050026241519
2001/02050092281624
14. Detailed information on the settlements reached in 2005/06 is set out in Annexe 3. Good working relations continue to exist between the Ombudsman’s office and the Council which enables suggested remedies to be agreed and complaints to be resolved satisfactorily.

Complaints received directly by Waverley in 2005/06 15. Waverley’s current complaints procedure was launched in early 2004, following a review in the autumn of 2003. The procedure is supported by written policy and procedural documents approved by the Ombudsman. Copies of the complaints form are available in the Council’s main offices and locality offices, and the form can also be downloaded from the Council’s website. However, complainants continue to prefer sending in their complaints by letter or e mail rather than using the form. The Council also has a dedicated complaints e-mail address which is increasingly used by complainants. 16. Early in 2006 the Council purchased a new IT system for tracking complaints and requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act. This new system went ‘live’ on 1st April 2006, and in future years will enable officers to provide Members with a more in depth analysis of the causes and outcome of complaints received from members of the public. For the year 2005/06 however, it is only possible to give very limited information on complaints received by Waverley.

DepartmentNumber of complaintsWeighted Average time taken to respond (working days)
Chief Executives 2315.2
Environment and Leisure 8411.2
Finance (Includes Benefits) 2415.4
Housing 4415
Planning 10422.7
Total 27916.8

17. As Members will be aware, the Council aims to respond to all complaints from members of the public within 15 working days.

Recommendation

It is recommended that:

1. the report be noted; 2. the Executive passes this report to the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee to assist with its review of the Council’s formal complaints procedure; 3. the Executive considers the resource issues arising from the report when Members consider resources available to the Planning Department elsewhere on the agenda with a view to improving the response times for dealing with Ombudsman complaints; and

4. the Council be recommended to amend the Terms of Reference of the Standards Committee to reflect the fact that it is considered to be more appropriate that the handling of Ombudsman complaints should fall within the Terms of Reference of the Executive, and the constitution be amended accordingly.

Background Papers (MD) Local Government Ombudsman’s annual letter to Waverley for 2005/06 dated 21 June 2006


CONTACT OFFICERS:

Name: Mrs Sue Petzold Telephone: 01483 523202
E-mail: spetzold@waverley.gov.uk

Mrs Anne Bott Telephone: 01483 523415
E-mail: abott@waverley.gov.uk

Paul Wenham Telephone: 01483 523238
E-mail: pwenham@waverley.gov.uk

Comms/exec/2006-07/121