Local government ombudsman
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A local government ombudsman (LGO) is an official employed by the Commission for Local Administration in England (CLAE or CLA), a body of commissioners established under the Local Government Act 1974 to investigate complaints about councils and certain other bodies in England.[dead link] Each of three local government ombudsmen is responsible for conducting investigations in one of three areas. Similar duties are carried out by the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman and the Northern Ireland Ombudsman.
A local government ombudsman investigates allegations of maladministration that have caused injustice to the complainant. All council services can be investigated including housing, planning, education, social services, council tax, housing benefit and highways. A local government ombudsman provides dispute resolution services free of charge to the complainants; as the 2009 fiscal year, the service cost approximately £16 million per annum. An LGO will usually only become involved after a council's complaints procedure has been exhausted.
The stated objective of the Commission for Local Administration in England is to secure satisfactory redress for complainants and better administration for local authorities. In addition LGOs may issue advice on good administrative practice in local government based on experience from prior investigations and also offer training in complaint handling to councils.
Although it will hear complaints of maladministration stemming from the actions of individual councillors and council employees, the service can only seek to remedy the injustice and cannot discipline the person responsible. Unless they are also members of a professional body, such as the Law Society, individual officers can only be disciplined by their employer. The local government ombudsman does not have an explicit duty to report criminal conduct by councils discovered in the course of an investigation to the law enforcement, and there are no known prosecutions or convictions resulting from the work of local government ombudsmen.
The LGO positions were created as a result of the Local Government Act 1974, which was amended by the Regulatory Reform Order 2007 No 1889 and the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007.
In 1995, a review conducted by Geoffrey Chipperfield, working for the Secretary of State of the Environment, recommended abolition of the local government ombudsmen on the grounds that it would not be able to handle the increasing volume of local government complaints effectively. Chipperfield recommended that all stages of a complaint, including external review, should be carried out locally. The government, however, declined to act on the report, stating that they believed that the CLA continued to be necessary, and that though local complaint systems were important, it wasn't necessary to create new statue mandating and maintaining such systems.
In 2007, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown stated, during a House of Commons debate on constitutional reform, that he believed that the House of Commons should have more authority over the selection of "public officials whose role it is to protect the public's rights and interests, and for whom there is not currently independent scrutiny. That includes...the local government ombudsman..."
Current local government ombudsmen
As of April 2011, the current LGO are:
- Jane Martin handles complaints about Manchester, York, Trafford BC, High Peak BC and the southern boroughs of London.
- Anne Seex (Chief Executive of Norwich City Council 2000-2005) handles complaints from Birmingham City, Solihull, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Warwickshire and the North of England.
Territories formerly handled by Tony Redmond, who handled complaints from North London, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent, Surrey, Suffolk, and Sussex, are currently being divided between Martin and Seex following Redmond's November 2010 retirement.
If the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome of a complaint against a local council he or she can send a written complaint to a local government ombudsman or ask a councillor to do so on their behalf. The LGO will decide whether or not to investigate. After investigation the local government ombudsman presents both parties with a provisional finding that they may challenge, possibly leading to further consideration and investigation. Complainants can ask the local government ombudsman to re-open their case via the Ombudsman's Comeback procedure only when a complaint has been determined without a formal report.
1.71% of cases in 2004/2005 resulted in a published report and a finding of maladministration. A further 25.29% of cases ended by 'local settlement' agreed between the council and the Local Government Ombudsman.[dead link] Local settlements do not result in a public report or a formal finding of maladministration. Councils are under no legal obligation to fulfill local settlements or act on the Local Government Ombudsman's recommendations, even those in a published report,[dead link] though the Ombudsman states that only one percent of settlements and recommendations are not complied with in full.[unreliable source?]
One risk of taking a complaint to the Local Government Omdudsman is that the complainant may run out of time to seek judicial review of a council's decision, missing the opportunity to raise the original matter in court. Judicial review must be sought within three months in the UK whereas only 54% of 2004/5 Ombudsman cases were determined within this time.[dead link]
Complaints about the Local Government Ombudsman
Complainants dissatisfied with the way a Local Government Ombudsman investigator deals with a complaint have recourse to the LGO's complaints procedure, which will be investigated by the Deputy Local Government Ombudsman.
Although the Local Government Ombudsman is not accountable to any external authority, complainants dissatisfied with the Ombudsman's decision on their original complaint may seek Judicial Review through the courts. Costs can be claimed if the challenge is successful. Judges do not overturn decisions of the Local Government Ombudsman but can require the Ombudsman to reconsider.
The service publishes quite extensively, including an annual "digest of cases" and "guidance on good practice" notes.
- LGO.org.uk - 'Local Government Ombudsman' (official website)
- Parliament.uk (pdf) - 'The Role and Effectiveness of the Local Government Ombudsmen for England: Eleventh Report of Session 2004-2005', House of Commons (April 7, 2005)
- "What we do". Commission for Local Administration in England. Retrieved 11 April 2011.
- "Making a complaint". Commission for Local Administration in England. Retrieved 11 April 2011.
- "Training for local authorities". Commission for Local Administration in England. Retrieved 11 April 2011.
- "Local Government Act 1974". UK Crown. Retrieved 11 April 2011.
- "Regulatory Reform Order 2007 No 1889". Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. Retrieved 11 April 2011.
- "The Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act". UK Crown. Retrieved 11 April 2011.
- Gordon Brown (3 July 2007). "Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs". Retrieved 13 April 2011.
- "Who we are". Commission for Local Administration in England. 21 February 2011. Retrieved 10 April 2011.
- "Judicial Review and Statutory Review". Rules & Practice Directions. Ministry of Justice. Retrieved 13 April 2011.