Council criticised over ‘lengthy delays’ to complaints process

Ombudsman raises concerns over time taken to deal with complaints, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Enfield Civic Centre
Enfield Civic Centre

Enfield Council has been rapped by the Local Government Ombudsman over “lengthy delays” in responding to its investigations.

The ombudsman, an independent body that looks into complaints against councils, said it had experienced “delayed responses” to the majority of its enquiries, and more than half of the recommendations it had agreed with the civic centre were implemented late.

The ombudsman upheld 27 complaints against Enfield Council in the year to 31st March – the fourth-highest number in London. The proportion upheld was only slightly higher than the average for similar authorities, and the ombudsman said the council successfully implemented its recommendations in all cases.

But in the annual review letter sent to the council on 20th July, ombudsman Michael King urged the council to consider how it prioritises complaints.

Having raised concerns over “lengthy delays” in getting information from the council last year, he wrote that he was “disappointed to report similar problems this year with delayed responses to the majority of our enquiries and over half of agreed recommendations implemented late”.

Michael said the council had sometimes provided previously-requested information after his organisation had already issued its findings on a complaint, meaning revised findings had to be issued which caused “avoidable delay to our casework”.

He added: “I hope you will agree this is a poor use of our respective resources and impacts on the standard of service we each provide to the public. I hope the council will reflect on steps it can take to improve its responses to our enquiries over the coming year.”

The ombudsman said he believed council complaint functions had been “under-resourced in recent years”, which had been “exacerbated by the [Covid-19] pandemic”. He added: “Through the lens of this recent upheaval and adjustment, I urge you to consider how your organisation prioritises complaints, particularly in terms of capacity and visibility.”

A council spokesperson said: “Over the past year, Enfield Council has taken a number of actions to improve ombudsman complaint handling, including enhanced resourcing and performance monitoring.

“The council continues this work by developing its handling procedures including improved guidance and staff training taking place during 2022/23.

“The council’s internal performance statistics show that while development opportunities remain, performance has improved compared to the previous year.”

See all of the Local Goverment Ombudsman data on Enfield Council: