Agenda item

Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman Annual Review Letter

Minutes:

The Service Manager (Customer & Theatre Services) provided Members with a copy of the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman’s Annual Review Letter for Gravesham.

 

The Service Manager (Customer and Theatre Services) advised that for the year ending 31 March 2018, the LG&SCO received a total of 19 complaints and enquiries about Gravesham Borough Council services. It was slightly higher than the previous year’s number of 17; of the 19 complaints and enquiries, 8 were referred back to the Council for local resolution, 4 were closed after initial enquiries with the Council, advice was given to 4 complainants and 1 complaint was invalid. One investigation was undertaken with the Ombudsman’s findings set out in Appendix 4. 

 

The Service Manager (Customer & Theatre Services) advised that the comparison between other Kent Authorities was not included within the report but the full details of that could be found on the Ombudsmen website. An exercise, however, was conducted and it showed that GBC’s performance is in line with the improved performance that Gravesham has seen over the last five years.

 

Following the Ombudsmen comments on the one case where he found the Council at fault, concern was raised that Gravesham were becoming an authority too rigid in its application of policy without proper consideration and discretion applied to wider circumstances that may affect decisions. In the case that was upheld, the policy at Gravesham was followed correctly but it was clear that more time needed to be spent with the applicant and her assessment be based on her individual needs, the process for housing applications should be more ‘people led’ than ‘paper led’.

 

The Assistant Director (Housing) stated that the findings were correct and an apology and financial redress was awarded. He further elaborated that the Housing department does rely on medical advisors in terms of guidance for applications but in that case the occupational report was disregarded by the medical advisor. The medical advisor was not convinced that the applicant had been properly assessed. Following the ombudsman report, measures have been taken to review every case when a medical report is received; taking into account what the advisor says as well as other any other factors that relate to the individual case. The policies used provide guidance but there is always discretion and consideration of an individual’s circumstances. Ultimately the decision still lies with the Council, so in future everything will be considered fairly on a case by case basis to determine an application’s merit.

 

Following a question regarding measurement of Ombudsmen cases to other similar local authorities, the Service Manager (Customer & Theatre Services) advised that unfortunately GBC do not see the content of the inquiries that are made to the Ombudsmen. The Council can only view the details of those where they have contacted the Council for information. However, it was also mentioned that all information is kept about GBC’s own cases and that most inquiries are usually related to Council Housing (homelessness, housing allocations, housing benefit, improvement services) followed by Benefits & Tax. In years past, the Council would receive 3-5 complaints, upheld by the Ombudsmen but those numbers haven’t been seen in more recent years due to the updated robust complaints procedure and the work carried out in conjunction with the Ombudsman’s recommendations for effective complaint handling.

 

The Assistant Director (Corporate Services) added that Gravesham operates many things that other authorities do not such as a Housing Stock, a Waste Collection Service and a Repairs and Maintenance Service. They are all public facing services which could lead to more personal interactions between the Council and members of the public.

 

Concern was raised by a Member over the medical advisors and if they were actually specialists in the areas that they were providing advice on. The Assistant Director (Housing) responded to the query advising that the company the Council uses is made up of a pool of different medical practitioners with a variety of specialisms. If the Council is not happy with a report or advisor, they can ask for a specialist response.

 

The Chair thanked the officers for an informative update.

 

Supporting documents: