Local Government Regulatory Bodies and Complaining
When all avenues of complaint with a local council have been exhausted and proven unsuccessful, the next step is to take the problem to a regulatory authority – the local government ombudsman.
Local Government OmbudsmanEngland, Wales and Scotland are represented by their own respective independent Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) services, which investigate complaints concerning local councils. In Northern Ireland the role is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Ombudsman.
The LGO offers a free and informal alternative to court proceedings. It is not intended as a regulator, trade body or guardian of customer rights but instead was set up by parliament to act as independent and impartial referee in dealing with disputes between local councils and their citizens.
The First StepsLocal government ombudsmen will refuse to get involved with any complaints that have not first passed through the first two steps of resolution.
A complaint's first port of call should be to the department that provides the service. Leaflets on complaints procedures are published by all local councils and available on request. These procedures are the same regardless of the particular organisation. The local council website will provide contact details for the local office or service manager responsible for individual services. Otherwise a simple telephone call to the council offices will retrieve this information.
This first stage often provides an informal opportunity to sort out any mistakes or misunderstandings before they escalate into an official complaint.
If the first stage fails to produce a satisfactory outcome the complaint should then be furthered by taking it to the council’s customer service office or the chief executive. This action will effectively formalise the complaint and mean that an official response is expected within 10 working days, or an explanation if this is not possible.
If the response is inadequate then the complainer has the right to appeal to the chief executive, and instigate a full review of the claim.
The Ombudsman SolutionIf the council has had a fair opportunity to sort out the complaint but either not dealt with it satisfactorily, such as not adhering to the time deadlines, or not found an acceptable resolution then the problem can be pursued with the appropriate ombudsman.
Councillor ComplaintsIf the complaint concerns a councillor then the Standards Board for England should be contacted. This organisation is separate from Central Government and is intended to promote and preserve high standards of councillor conduct. In Wales the LGO carries out this function.
Who Can I Complain About?The LGO not only accepts complaints relating to local councils but a number of different public sector authorities including school governing bodies, national park authorities and the police and fire authorities.
The ombudsman only accepts complaint relating to maladministration on the part of the accused. This means something the authority has done wrong or failed to do that has adversely affected the individual.
Ombudsman Complaint ProcedureIf a person has a complaint relating to their local council they should find out who their local representative ombudsman is and complete and send the appropriate application form to them so that the claim can be reviewed. The form can be found on the LGO website.
When the complaint has been received by the local ombudsman it will be acknowledged within 5 working days and instruction on what happens next will be provided.