Complaints to West Sussex County Council increase

A ticket to see Cliff Richard and compensation totalling more than £10,000 were ways in which West Sussex County Council settled complaints last year.

A report due to be discussed by the Standards Committee next week states the number of complaints to the council increased last year, but was still outnumbered by the amount of compliments it received for the fourth year running.

There were 757 complaints to the council in 2013 compared with 737 in 2012.

This contrasts with 3,059 compliments, including 1,819 to the Library Service for the Summer Reading Challenge.

Of the 757 complaints, 151 were upheld and 62 went onto the second stage of the complaints procedure.

The departments which attracted the highest number of complaints were Communities Commissioning with 211, Service Operations with 137, and Adult Services with 132.

Communities Commissioning is the department through which the council helps communities provide services on its behalf.

A third of the complaints against it were in March 2013 and regarded highways problems caused by the severe winter weather. A spokesman said without these, the number would be lower than in 2012.

In each of the areas, the reports states what changes have been made to improve monitoring of areas which have caused concern.

Compensation paid out as a result of complaints also increased. Calculated by financial year, it totalled £10,715.34 in 2013/2014 compared with £8,773.47 in 2012/2013.

Some of these were settled by the Local Government Ombudsman, to whom complaints regarding WSCC fell for the first time in a few years.

In 2013 the LGO notified the council of 93 complaints decisions and fault was identified in 13 cases.

The council settled complaints with an apology or a reassessment. The report describes three cases in which it agreed financial solutions.

These were a £170 trip to a Cliff Richard concert for an adult with learning difficulties whose care had not been properly reviewed; writing off a £106.20 charge and paying £250 for a son’s time pursuing a complaint about his mother’s care; and £250 to couple in regard to a poor review of their stepson’s care.

The report also notes a complaint to the LGO dating back to 2010, which has was settled in March this year. It regards a ‘faulty decision’ led to the council reimbursing a family £10,340.46 for the cost of their father’s residential care.

A spokesman said: “West Sussex County Council is committed to providing a good-quality and fair service and has a robust complaints procedure. We encourage people to let us know when they are not happy with something so that we can put things right.

“In terms of the amount of compensation paid as a result of complaints, this is fairly stable over time but does fluctuate.

“Although the figure is up to £10,715.34 this year compared to £8773.47 the year before, it still compares favourably with the £12,364.60 in the financial year 2011/12.

“Obviously the council always wants to get it right first time, but where people have genuinely lost out on services it is only right that they should be fairly treated.”