Most complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman about councils’ child protection and adult care planning functions were upheld during 2015-16, the watchdog’s annual review has revealed.
Sixty-eight per cent of complaints related to child protection that were investigated in detail by the ombudsman were upheld, as were 70% of those dealing with adult care planning.
The ombudsman provides an independent review of local authority decision-making where the person concerned has exhausted internal complaints processes.
Among all complaints about council-run adult social care services that were investigated, 58% were upheld, as were 53% of those concerning education and children’s services, above the average across all services of 51%.
Rise in social care complaints
Overall, 2,584 complaints about councils’ adult services were received, a rise of 4% on the previous year. The review said that:
- Assessment and care planning continued to attract most complaints, at 602 (up from 576 the previous year). It highlighted poor communication, inadequate involvement of families, delays in assessing and reviewing and insufficient provision of information to help families make choices as being common faults.
- Complaints about councils’ provision of home care rose steeply – by 29% – to 281, from 218 in 2014-15. Among such complaints, 67% were upheld after investigation. Common problems included failure to provide services, communication breakdowns between councils and care providers and medical assistance not being sought in a timely manner. The report acknowledged the sector’s awareness of some of the issues raised.
- The ombudsman registered 278 complaints and enquires about charging for care, upholding 62% after investigation and highlighting inconsistent information and guidance as causes for concern.
A Local Government Association spokesperson said: “It is unsurprising that issues around adult social care are areas of concern for complainants, as this is where there has been increasing pressure on budgets and demand for services.
The spokesperson added: “Councils will continue to work hard to ensure people have their voice heard and are confident that their council will act on any feedback but the funding crisis in adult social care is taking its toll on councils’ ability to provide support to older and vulnerable people.”
Child protection concerns
Education and children’s services, the most frequently complained about area of council operations, also saw the biggest rise in complaints – up by 13% to 3,438. Of these, 903 related to child protection.
As well as commenting on the high proportion of such complaints being upheld, the ombudsman’s review flagged up “regular” instances of councils failing to follow procedures with regards to the statutory children’s social care complaints processes. It also noted “some instances” where a council had taken a lack of consent from a young person to justify not investigating a complaint around child sexual exploitation, or for failing to take safeguarding action.
Dave Hill, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said: “An increase of 13% in the numbers of enquiries or complaints about the provision of services to children and their families sounds high, but it’s important to see these figures in context – our work with schools brings us into contact with millions of children each and every year.”
Hill added: “The services we provide are complex and local authorities are going through a lot of change driven by changes in legislation and austerity. We work hard to minimise the impact of this change on the communities we serve and when things go wrong we seek to learn lessons.”