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4 May, 2020 Open access

Ombudsman issues new guidance to local authorities and care providers about complaints handling during COVID-19 crisis

Guidance includes expectation that complaints are dealt with ‘appropriately’ and attention is still given to urgent and serious public concerns

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has today issued guidance to those working for local authorities and care providers about complaints handling during the COVID-19 crisis.

Introducing the new guidance, Good Administrative Practice during the response to COVID-19, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman Michael King advises that, while all ombudsman casework has been suspended during the crisis, nevertheless -

‘We expect councils and care providers to respond appropriately to any complaints during this time of national emergency. Resources are stretched, redeployed and operating under emerging and fast changing rules and guidance. But, whilst we understand their responses may look different to those we would expect during normal arrangements, we think that all urgent and serious public concerns should still receive attention.’

Intended as an addendum to the Ombudsman’s Principles of good administrative practice, the new guidance suggests good practice during the crisis in relation to -

  1. Getting it right - maintaining effective record keeping, particularly when departing from normal practice; proper oversight and direction of any devolved functions; and maintaining essential operations if redeploying staff to the frontline;
  2. Being service-user focused - even where national rule changes allow raised thresholds for action, individual circumstances of each case should be considered;
  3. Being open and accountable - maintaining open and transparent decision making (although normal consultation expectations may not be feasible or appropriate);
  4. Acting fairly and proportionately - committing to review changes in practice that have not been consulted on and to avoid arbitrary decisions and actions with a clear framework for consistent decisions;
  5. Putting things right - continuing to deal with complaints but being realistic as to time scales and explaining reasons for delays or deviation from normal processes.
  6. Seeking continuous improvement - continuing to use complaints to help make improvements in service delivery and keeping a long-term view to help plans for recovery and normalisation after the crisis passes.

For more information, see Ombudsman issues guidance to councils and care providers from lgo.org.uk