THE Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has revealed how many complaints it upheld against St Helens Borough Council in 2019-20.

The Ombudsman, which investigates complaints from the public about councils and other bodies providing public services in England, has released the figures as part of its annual review.

During 2019-20, the Ombudsman upheld six complains against St Helens Council, equating to an uphold rate of 75 per cent.

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This is significantly higher than in 2018-19 when the council had an uphold rate of 45 per cent, and higher than the average uphold rate of similar authorities (67 per cent).

These statistics are based on a total of eight detailed investigations for carried out in 2019-20.

One investigation that was upheld involved a complaint made by a woman referred to as Mrs X, who said the council failed to provide education and special educational needs (SEN) support to her son.

The Ombudsman found the council had delayed in the Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) process and recommended that it apologise to Mrs X and pay her a total of £1,600.

In another investigation, a woman referred to as Ms X complained that the council had unreasonably refused to assign a social worker from its children with disabilities service to assess her son, and had delayed in meeting his needs.

The council had not considered the complaint at stage two of the statutory children’s complaints procedure so the Ombudsman subsequently recommended that the council conduct a stage two investigation, apologise to Ms X, and pay her £200 to remedy the injustice caused by its delay.

Another, more unusual complaint, saw a man referred to as Mr C complain about the way the council responded to his reports of nuisance from rabbits entering his garden, which had caused damage.

The Ombudsman found fault by the council in the delay in advising Mr C it did not own the land the rabbits were entering his property from and in providing the landowner’s details.

However, the Ombudsman decided that an apology was enough to provide a suitable remedy in this instance.

In total, the Ombudsman received 35 complaints in relation to St Helens Borough Council in 2019-20.

The most complaints related to education and children’s services, with 11 complaints received.

Seven complaints a piece were received in relation to adult social care, and environmental services, public protection, and regulation.

In addition, six complaints were received in relation to planning and development, two related to highways and transport, one for housing and one classed as other.

Out of the complaints that were dealt with, six were upheld, 17 were referred back for a local resolution, seven were closed after initial enquires, five were deemed invalid or incomplete and two were not upheld.

The Ombudsman said in 100 per cent of cases it was satisfied the council had successfully implemented its recommendations, based on a total of seven compliance outcomes for the period or 2019-20.

A St Helens Borough Council spokesman said: “As a council we strive to make sure that our residents are satisfied with the service they get and we would always encourage anyone with issues to speak to us first so that we can try to resolve issues.

“In total we received six upheld complaints, the second lowest in numbers across the Liverpool City Region.

“These six complaints are not reflective of the thousands of enquires we deal with every year and where there have been failings found by the Ombudsman we have taken the steps to apologise and rectify the issue as has been noted in the Ombudsman’s annual report.”

St Helens Star:

The Ombudsman also notes in its annual report that it saw an “abrupt pause” to its casework in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It says this was the right thing to do to allow authorities and care providers space to deliver crucial frontline services.

The review shows the Ombudsman has made more than 1,600 recommendations to improve services for the wider public in England in the past year – up 12 per cent on the previous year.

Service improvement recommendations are when councils agree to review policies, procedures, and staff training, to avoid other people being affected by the same fault in a case.

Over the same period the Ombudsman upheld a greater proportion of the complaints it investigates, from 58 per cent last year to 61 per cent.

This figure includes a higher number of cases where the Ombudsman agreed with the way the council had offered to put things right before the complaint got to the watchdog – increased from 11 to 13 per cent – demonstrating the sector is increasingly learning from its own complaints.

Specific information about complaints investigated for every local authority in England, is included on the Ombudsman’s interactive online map.

This now includes two years’ of complaints and remedies data, so people can start to build a picture of performance over time.

The Ombudsman says the map can be used by council officers to learn from complaints, councillors to scrutinise complaints and decisions and by residents to hold their local authorities to account.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “While we are seeing more and more complex cases beset by systemic problems, we are also increasingly working with councils to identify the root of those problems and making recommendations to improve the underlying policies and procedures causing them.

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“These service improvements highlight the power one single complaint can have – when dealt with properly – to prevent problems reoccurring and improve services for others.

“The cases highlighted in my report reflect the reality of local authority life prior to the COVID-19 crisis, but I believe it is all the more important now to deal with complaints properly and to harness this free public feedback.

“Councils’ readiness on the whole to work with us to implement our practical recommendations to improve the services they provide demonstrates the sector has a mature attitude to complaint handling – one which we have advocated throughout our work.”