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Ombudsman in 'rule book' warning over financially-driven reforms

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The local government and social care ombudsman has issued a warning to councils about systemic problems caused by the restructuring of services due to financial pressures.

Michael King said the way councils have “adapted and innovated is to be admired” but cautioned councils not to “throw out the rule book” when making changes.

In the report Under Pressure, published today, Mr King highlights 40 cases which he says reveal failures stemming from service redesigns.

These include:

  • A council which took four years to carry out a financial assessment of a woman looking after her grandson and then refused to backdate the allowance calculated. The council blamed limited resources.
  • A council which attempted to avoid the cost associated with free entitlement to intermediate care and reablement for six weeks by using “a subtly different approach and name”. The ombudsman found it was not fully complying with the Care Act.
  • A council which decided to only investigate reports of noise nuisance if three different people made a complaint and dismissed a woman’s complaint on these grounds. An investigation found 6,000 complaints had also been dismissed for this reason.
  • A council which raised the threshold for providing short respite breaks for children by using an “unspecified high level of need”, meaning families could not understand what they were entitled to

Mr King said: “While I appreciate the challenges councils are dealing with, we cannot make concessions for failures attributed to budget pressures and must continue to hold authorities to account against relevant legislation, standards, guidance and their own policies.”

The ombudsman has also launched a revised ‘principles of good administrative practice’ aligned with those used by other ombudsmen.

“Ultimately, I hope these principles will help ensure good administrative practice continues to remain at the heart of local government decision making, guiding the governance and delivery of local services in the way it has for decades before,” Mr King said.

Responding to the report, chair of the Local Government Association’s improvement and innovation board Peter Fleming (Con) said: “Councils have done all they can to protect local services, maintain residents’ satisfaction, and have embraced efficiency and innovation in a way that is not being replicated anywhere else in the public sector.

”Local government is one of the most trusted parts of the public sector and councils always strive to improve and make it easier for residents to give feedback.

“However, unprecedented funding pressures and demand for adult and children’s social care and homelessness services is pushing councils to the limit. As a result less money is being spent on the other services that keep our communities running such as libraries, local roads, early intervention and local welfare support.”


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