LGO responds to Select Committee report
Date Published: 17/07/12
The LGO welcomes today’s (17 July) report from the Communities and Local Government Committee, which pays tribute to the work of our staff during a particularly demanding period and welcomes plans to publish our decisions in the interests of openness.That makes a change - they have always been reluctant to give full details of their decision because it would allow complainants to contest the validity of their decisions. Many of which would not stand up to close scrutiny.
We also agree that some changes need to be made to the organisation, in order to ensure that we continue to modernise and provide a high quality service, whilst our budget is reduced by a third over the next few years.Continue to provide a high quality service? The Local Government Ombudsman has not provided a high quality service since the mid nineties when they started to recruit ex council officers as ombudsmen. In addition until recently their budget had been increased significantly even though the service was going downhill. Therefore, they should have expected their budget to be cut in line with the poor service they now provide.
This is why we have been consulting on a comprehensive programme of change over the last 12 months, which can be fully implemented once the government provide the necessary authorisations.Change that has been forced upon them because the service they provided was getting worse and worse and they demonstrably failed to do anything about it. Other than manipulate their statistics and surveys in an attempt to give the false impression they were still doing a good job.
Our proposals have been discussed extensively with staff, government officials and others, and are available on the LGO website, along with the independent review which informed them.But not with many complainants, their main customers.
Jane Martin, Ombudsman and Chair, comments: “Our annual report published last week shows that LGO made 11,229 complaint decisions in 2011/12, an increase on previous years and a trend that we expect to continue.Reports produced by themselves using their own dodgy statistics. [example 1] [example 2]
In more than a quarter of these cases, we identified significant injustice and obtained redress for the complainants concerned, many of whom were vulnerable individuals whose voices would have otherwise gone unheard.The redress mentioned is on average a few hundred pounds so they can close down a complaint early which saves them having to conduct a full and proper investigation and issue formal reports finding maladministration against their ex colleagues.
We are acutely aware that this is an essential frontline service and welcome the scrutiny of the Committee to make sure that we are delivering it as efficiently as possible without compromising on quality.They can't compromise on something they haven't had for years, which is a quality service.
We will be responding in detail to the Committee’s report over the coming weeks and hope it will be evident, when we have had the opportunity publish our response, that many of the recommendations have already been taken on board.”
LGO publishes its performance against time standards for handling complaints and these compare well with other Ombudsman schemes: last year we decided more than 55% of cases within 13 weeks; and 85% within 26 weeks.Statistics which they produce themselves and are not independently audited.
However, in rare situations, the complaint cannot be resolved within 52 weeks – usually due to the complexity of the issues involved or the need to accommodate other organisations’ processes.Rubbish, in my own case the issues were very simple but it still took them 11 years (Mainly because they didn't appear to have the ability to think logically and rationally. Here is an example. ) and they still made a hash of the final decision because they based it on lies they accepted from the council without validation (Not an uncommon thing for the LGO to do).
In addition, if a case is dragging on they try their best to close it down and get the complainant to submit another. This is one way they improve their case duration statistics. With the added bonus of being able to count, what is essentially the same complaint, twice and on some occasions three or more times. They used at least five different complaint numbers during the period they were attempting to resolve my complaint.
Therefore, do they handle as many cases as they suggest or do they churn a smaller number of cases to make themselves look much more effective than they actually are?
This is currently only around 0.5% of our cases and we are actively reviewing every individual case which falls into this category in order to check that we have done everything possible to achieve a satisfactory outcome. We will continue to publish our performance against time targets.
LGO has long been committed to using an independent research body to assess customer satisfaction, as an important part of our public accountability.Whilst they may use an independent research body to give an air of legitimacy to their customer satisfaction surveys they actually tell the body not to approach certain complainants which has on one occasion been close to 20% of their most dissatisfied complainants. Thus manipulating the outcome in their favour.
This provides us with independent feedback on how our customers experience our service, their views on different aspects of what we do and overall satisfaction.They have known about their poor levels of customer satisfaction since the 90s and done nothing to improve them. One could, in light of the recent panning from MPs, legitimately argue they are now much worse.
We certainly agree with the Committee that this should continue, and we will reflect on how this work, along with the evaluation of our own service and capturing the views of our staff, can best be developed in future.They could make a start by surveying representative groups and not omitting the most dissatisfied ones in an attempt to give the false impression they are better than they are.