The review of the lGO is total and complete - Bias is the only description I can give to two complaints handled by the LGO - one case the licencing offical admitted being a friend of the Resteranter and failed to indicate his interest for over five years despite complaints of noise at 1 in the morning. No fault found
The second more serious complaint has resulted in a pensioner of 82 being in fear for her home of 50 years being taken to court after five years and a 16 months on still unable to complete the matter, her home still under threat and the ombudsman who could have stopped the problem in its tracks in 2000 the LGO refused to actually see the paperwork making a descion on only five pages of a 1000 page complaint.
Total bias from begining to end - don't waste your time with them.
I first used the local government ombudsman to complain about a planning decision. Although he did actually find maladminstration I was not at all impressed by the service.
The decision taken by my council was totally out of line with decisions on similar issues in other local authorities and indeed with their own decisions on other similar applications. Despite that the ombudsman's office at first said there would be no investigation. I had to spend a great deal of time and effort showing how unfair the decision was and to take my complaint to the deputy ombudsman even to get it investigated. Eventually the Ombudsman did find in my favour but the amount of compensation awarded did not meet the cost of the action I had to take to partly remedy the effect of the planning decision. It was a traumatic process and if I had a similar problem again I would probably go to a solicitor for advice first. If there is a possible legal remedy it would be better to take that - by the time the Ombudsman reports it will be too late to consider legal action.
The vast majority of those who have used this service are dissatisfied with it, as the Ombudsman's own survey shows. The last survey excluded 11% of those who complained - and without those exclusions the dissatisfaction rate would probably have been higher.
If you do feel you have to try the ombudsman you will need all the help you can get to make a case they will consider. Looking at the past decisions on their website may help - but when I compalined about inconsistency in the awards of compensation I was told the Ombudsman has no legal obligation to be consistent.
I was quite astonished to read a glowing review of the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) service by a Dooyoo member who has not had the first-hand experience of taking a complaint to this institution. I have had first-hand experience of the LGO, work closely with other people who have also had first-hand experience, and take a very close and concerned interest in the structure and activities of this institution. I am unable to provide an encouraging account of its activites.
Hidden away on the LGOs own website are the disturbing results of its own MORI polls. The1999 MORI Customer Satisfaction poll reported a 73% dissatisfaction level amongst people who had taken their complaint to the LGO, with 61% describing themselves as very dissatisfied with the final outcome of their complaint. Even around half of those complainants in the 1999 poll who represented the very small number who achieved a finding of maladministration causing injustice, were said to be dissatisfied with the outcome. The 1999 MORI poll report described its customer dissatisfaction findings as 'broadly similar' to the 1995 MORI poll. I had waited with anticipation for the next MORI Customer Satisfaction survey, only to discover that it has been replaced by the 2003 Customer Awareness Survey, so the public dissatisfaction statistics with the outcome of complaints to the LGO are no longer being investigated or provided. Given the very high rates of public dissatisfaction with the LGO as exposed by the 1999 and 1995 polls, I should have thought that a further survey of the same kind is certainly needed, rather than the by comparison innocuous poll that has replaced it.
IS THE LGO OFFICE REALLY IMPARTIAL?
Well, lets have a look at the background of senior staff. At the time of writing (November 2004) two of the three current English Local Government Ombudsmen are former Local Authority Chief Executive Officers. All three current Deputy Ombudsmen worked in local government before joining the Commission, as did the current Deputy Chief Executive. An organisation that recruits its senior staff almost entirely from local government inevitably does not attract the same level of public confidence as one with a wider range of experience. One wonders how much automatic sympathy these senior members of staff feel for people doing their old jobs in local government, and how they might themselves have felt if a rigorous and truly impartial Local Government Ombudsman had conducted investigations into the allegations of maladministration made against their own councils when they held senior office in local government.
ARE THE LGOs APPOINTED BY AN INDEPENDENT BODY?
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) has disclosed that when the last Ombudsman was appointed, one member of the three-person selection panel represented the Local Government Association. The ODPM's office refuse to divulge details of the other members of the panel, but do state that they had substantial knowledge of local government. It is clear that when complaints are made about maladministration by local authorities, those being judged have a substantial say in the selection of the judge. Obviously this selection process is not one that would command public confidence and it seems to contravene the spirit, if not the letter, of the guidance from the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. The Ombudsmen are not appointed for a fixed period and that is also not in accordance with the OCPA guidance.
EXTREME UNDERREPORTING OF CONCIL MALADMINISTRATION
The LGO will only entertain complaints where in their view there is prima facie evidence of maladministration with injustice. So if they investigate a complaint, and this results in the LGO finding that injustice has been caused to the complainant by the bad practice of a council, and the council is asked to pay that individual a sum in compensation, then anyone capable of basic logical thinking would deduce that there has been a finding of maladministration with injustice. But no. Despite this being a de facto recognition by the LGO that the actions of a council amounted to maladministration with injustice, the LGO reports the vast majority of these cases as a local settlement. This is an entirely inappropriate policy, and leads to extreme underreporting of maladministration by local councils, depriving the local media and indeed taxpayers of the information about the councils they pay the LGO to provide.
What kind of incentive does the Local Government Ombudsman provide to local authorities to follow good professional practice when they know that the LGO will generally find in the councils favour when citizens complain, and that the LGO will in any case report the vast majority of cases of maladministration with injustice as the euphemistic local settlement? (By the way, to my thinking, a settlement should involve the agreement of the injured and the culpable parties.) The LGOs office is in fact encouraging local authority maladministration as a result of the real (rather than published) actions, policies and values of this institution.
How does this underreporting express itself in the LGOs Annual Reports? Of the 12,057 complaints submitted that he said he could investigate in 2002/3, the English Local Government Ombudsman reported that only 145 cases (1.2%) represented maladministration by local government. However, there were a further 3,735 cases (31%) that he reported simply as 'local settlement', and although in fact this meant he had found maladministration with injustice in all these cases according to his published guidelines, he chose not to report them as such.
This means that the Ombudsman under-reported local government maladministration in his Annual Report 2003/4 by a staggering 2,576%. In other words, for every complaint that the Ombudsman identifies as 'maladministration' in his Annual Report, there are 26 cases of
maladministration that he has not named as such. Of course, if the Ombudsman does not report a case as maladministration, neither will the media, sparing local councils the kind of media attention that upholds democratic accountability and ensures transparency. Even where the Ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice, but decides to describe it instead in his Annual Report as a 'local settlement', many of the financial awards he suggests as compensation are completely incommensurate with the suffering experienced: paltry, insulting sums of money.
IS THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT OMBUDSMAN HELD ACCOUNTABLE TO ANYONE?
The LGO office seems to enjoy the privilege of wholesale unaccountability, and they can themselves commit maladministration with injustice with complete impunity because of the apparent absence of any effective structure to ensure the institution behaves impartially, fairly, and with respect to human rights. The only way of challenging an Ombudsman's decision is by Judicial Review, which can cost tens of thousands of pounds, and where a successful challenge to the Ombudsman is very rare. Judges are very reluctant to find against the LGO. The Ombudsman can also simply agree to take another look at a complaint during a judicial review if he thinks a judge is going to find against him, thus avoiding a negative ruling. The appellant then has to make a fresh appeal for judicial review when the Ombudsman later decides to keep with his original decision.
HOW MUCH TAXPAYERS MONEY GOES INTO LGO COFFERS?
The sums of money provided by the taxpayer to the LGO are not inconsiderable, and ironically the outcome of funding this biased institution is to encourage bad practice on the part of council officials who are aware they have very little to fear from the government watchdog. In 2004/5, the salary paid from our taxes to the most senior of the three Ombudsmen (the Commission Chairman) is £147,198, (linked to the salary of a High Court Judge) and in 2004/5, the Annual Grant from Government (i.e. our taxes) to the Ombudsman's office is £11,058,000.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT OMBUDSMANWATCH
I shall never forget the experience of encountering such appalling injustice and bias from two separate (but so clearly allied) government institutions: first the council, and then the Local Government Ombudsman. There is, however, a campaign, Local Government Ombudsmanwatch, which provides a forum of support to victims of LGO injustice, some of whom have been driven to stress and depression-related illnesses by their experience, even to thoughts of suicide, and others of whom have been unfairly caused huge financial losses. Within this organisation, colleagues can share their experiences with others who are in a position to empathise. The campaign also has as a key objective the determination to expose the cosy link between the LGOs office and local authorities.
LGOwatch supporters are encouraged in their long-term objective of eventually achieving the abolition of the Commission for Local Administration (the LGOs office) in its present form by an important recent precedent: the founding of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) on 1 April 2004, which replaced the discredited Police Complaints Authority, abolished on 31 March 2004. It is interesting to consider the backgrounds of senior staff of the IPCC with regard to the domain they investigate: the IPCC has a chair, deputy chair and 15 Commissioners, and at the time I researched (July 2004) not one of them is a former police officer. Of its six directors and four regional directors, currently only four incumbents are former police officers. The LGO's office is certainly unable to claim such detachment between the former occupations of its senior staff, (or, we believe, many of its Investigators,) and the institutions it investigates.
I for one am extremely unhappy to know that the tax I pay contributes to sustaining in existence an institution that pretends to hold justice as its core value, yet betrays the existence of blatant vested interests in its actions, and as a result encourages further maladministration from local authorities with a sense of arrogant impunity. Those interested in this issue, or who have experienced first-hand injustice from the LGO (there are many of us), may like to have a look at the LGOwatch website at www.ombudsmanwatch.org .
When you have a problem with your local authority (council) were you totally confused as to which person/s or department/s you should complain to? Were your phone calls never returned, letters unanswered, resulting in you just simply giving up - too much bureaucracy to wade through? Pity. . .you should have referred the matter to the Local Government Ombudsman's office and then watched how quickly your issue was resolved. As the infrastructure of local Government becomes more and more bureaucratic, departments overlapping, new legislation invoked, bye-laws created and policies devised, it's no wonder that confusion and maladministration are an integral feature .The result of this can leave the local residents in a perpetual state of flux. It can become a nightmare trying to get an issue resolved. This is where the offices of the Ombudsmen (sic) comes into its own. Created by an Act of Parliament, their objectives are to secure redress for individuals that have suffered through negligence. To this end, they are given wide-ranging powers of investigation, backed-up by the full weight of law. As there are officers covering Scotland, Wales and England, the rest of this opinion will concentrate on the English Ombudsmen's web site only. The contact information for Scotland and Wales is detailed at the foot of this page. So, the Ombudsmen in England, what can they do for you? The Local Government Ombudsman, or, to give them their correct title: 'The Commission for Local Administration in England', was created by statute to seek reparation for residents that have suffered as a direct result of maladministration by the local authority (and others). What is 'maladministration'? Maladministration is not defined in law, but would include: treating you unfairly, not following the law or it's own rules, giving you wrong information or taking too long to do something. This
is not exhaustive, merely included to give an indication. Full details may be obtained from their web site. Are the Ombudsmen part of the Government? Even though the Ombudsmen were created by law, they are awarded total independence and impartiality. They are not on anyone's side so to speak. They define their position as - "We are there to defend authorities against unjustified allegations as well as to seek remedies for those who have been wronged. . .If we do find that something has gone wrong. . .there can be no doubt that we are firmly on the complainant's side." What happens when a complaint is received? Before the Ombudsman will initiate an investigation, they will check to see that a) it is within their jurisdiction b) it is within the time limit c) the authority concerned has been given opportunity to deal with the complaint themselves, usually by the complainant following any internal complaints procedure. It is important to remember that a complaint must be lodged within 12 months of the incident(s). The Ombudsman does have the discretion though to take-up a complaint after this time but is not obliged to do so. Once it has been decided that your complaint falls within the criteria above, a copy of your complaint is forwarded by the Ombudsman's office to the Chief Executive (CEO) of the local authority concerned, with a request for a detailed response. Once the CEO has responded the complainant is then given the opportunity to comment on the response. Usually complaints are resolved at this stage, but if not, an investigation may be ordered by the Ombudsman, which is conducted by his/her staff. During an investigation the Ombudsman commands the same powers as the High Court with regard to examination of witnesses and in demanding documents. What resolution can the Ombudsman order? If maladministration is proven, financial reparation is usually awarded. Even though this
is not binding on the local authority, in nearly all cases they concede to the Ombudsman's wishes as a refusal involves a lengthy, public and potentially embarrassing chastisement. The Ombudsman also has the powers to issue 'Guidance of good practice' to local authorities for future reference and as an aid to reducing complaints. Who are the Ombudsmen? There are three Ombudsmen each covering a separate area of the country. Their details and areas are explained at the base of this opinion. Who is the 'Chief' Ombudsman? Each of the Ombudsmen are given equal weight under the law. Effectively this means that they are free to make their own decisions independently of one another. Therefore, complainants in different areas may experience different responses. The Ombudsmen do try to ensure that there is a general consensus in dealing with complaints, but variances to occur. This is important to remember if you do happen to read some of the cases on their web site as even if you have the exact complaint dealt with by one Ombudsman, your particular representative may reach a different conclusion altogether! Is there a charge for using the Ombudsman? No, but as each office is funded through taxpayers' money, the real answer is yes, albeit indirectly. What if I disagree with the Ombudsman's decision? The best way is to negotiate with the investigator/Ombudsman directly, explaining in as much detail as possible how the maladministration has affected you. Should you still feel a decision is unacceptable, the only way to challenge the Ombudsman is via Judicial Review i.e. court action! Any other interesting stuff on their web site? There sure is: An overview of what an investigator does from an investigator's point of view. Report summaries of cases (named changed for confidentiality). Digest of cases (may be ordered in their entirety for fr
ee) An in-depth explanation of how the Ombudsmen came to fruition, complete with a comprehensive overview of their duties, obligations, powers, etc. A link to Ombudsman schemes in the UK (and dependant territories) Complaint leaflet/details (also available in: Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Gurjarati, Chinese, Vietnamese, Greek and Turkish) Annual report. A lot of the information is in PDF format, available free on the site. Have you used the Ombudsman service? Not on a personal level, but professionally I perhaps refer six cases a year. I have always found them to be highly professional and accommodating. They avoid legal jargon with the uninitiated and do everything possible to ensure a complainant's issues are addressed, even visiting at home if this is deemed helpful. Everyone involved is kept up-to-date by telephone or letter throughout any investigation. All in all the Ombudsman service is a wonderful invention for seeking redress. It is not run on a 'compensation culture' philosophy - and anyone thinking it is a secret door into making a few quid will most definitely be given short thrift. Conversely, though, if you have a genuine complaint that is/has impacted on you and the local authority have failed to address it or have ignored their own complaints procedure, the Ombudsman's office should be your next step. Don't allow bureaucracy to immobilise you! * * * Ombudsmen (England) Mr E B C Osmotherley CB Local Government Ombudsman 21 Queen Anne's Gate London, SW1H 9BU Tel: 0207.915.3210 Areas covered: Birmingham, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and the north of England. Mrs P A Thomas Local Government Ombudsman Beverley House 17 Shipton Road York, YO30 5FZ Tel: 01904.663200 Areas covered: The rest of England, except Lond
on. Mr J R White Local Government Ombudsman The Oaks No 2 Westwood Way Westwood Business Park Coventry, CV4 8JB Tel: 024.7669.5999 Areas covered: Greater London General advice line (filling in forms, checking jurisdiction, etc.) 9-4.30 Mon-Fri - 0845.602.1983 To order (free) copies of the Ombudsman's reports Tel: 0207.915.3210 * * * Ombudsman, Scotland: 23 Walker St Edinburgh EH3 7HX Tel: 0131.225.5300 web site: www.ombudslgscot.org.uk Wales Derwen House Court Road Bridgend CF31 1BN Tel: 01656.661325 web site: www.ombudsman-wales.org www.ombwdsman-cymru.org For further information or clarification on any details contained in this op, log on to:www.open.gov.uk/lgo/