Complaints on the rise

RESIDENTS’ complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman about councils covering Sudbury and the surrounding area have risen in the past year, writes Anne Wise.

Suffolk County Council received a total of 89 inquiries and complaints over the year ending in April 2011.

The ombudsman – an official who investigates complaints against government organisations – said it was a “notable increase” from 61 in the previous year. More than two thirds of the complaints concerned education and children’s services.

In one case, the ombudsman said the council failed to carry out a child protection investigation and ended up paying the complainant’s “substantial” legal costs and £4,000 compensation.

However, in an annual review letter to the county council, the ombudsman praised the authority for improving its response times to complaints.

“I am pleased to see that there was an improvement last year,” he said. “The average response time was 25 days, below my 28-day target.”

Seventeen residents complained to the ombudsman about Babergh District Council over the same period – a rise from 12 on the previous year.

Time to respond to inquiries at Babergh rose from 25 days to 29 days. Around 65 per cent of district councils take less than 28 days to respond to inquiries, with 23 per cent taking between 29 and 35 days.

Complaints about Braintree District Council rose from 15 to a total of 23 during the year.

The ombudsman’s powers were extended last year to deal with complaints about adult social care services and, over the past two years, complaints about care arranged or funded by councils had doubled from 657 to 1,351.