West Sussex County Council criticised for ‘obduracy’

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The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has said there were ‘issues of poor information or delay’ by West Sussex County Council when investigating some complaints against it.

Despite not finding any maladministration by WSCC, in her annual review letter to WSCC chief executive Kieran Stigant, LGO Anne Seex highlighted six cases raising concern about delays.

Ms Seex said the council’s response time was ‘adequate’, but some of the responses were longer than the required 28 days. She notes: “One response to enquiries was so poor that the investigator had to visit to interview officers.”

The six cases she picks up on were either about adult social care and children’s service departments, which topped the table for complaints in 2011/12, with 51 and 45 respectively. Some 53 of these led to an investigation.

The first case brought to Mr Stigant’s attentions was one of a 100-year-old woman needing a place in a residential care home.

The council prepared a funding agreement setting out the contribution from the lady’s family, the contribution from the NHS and the council’s maximum rate.

Ms Seex’s report stated that even though the NHS had previously said in writing it would pay £108 towards the lady’s care, “the finance team would not process the paperwork for the woman’s placement”.

As a result, the family would have to pay the £108 on top of their contribution. The family complained to the council at which time they were told it would be ‘illegal’ for the council to include the NHS funding in the agreement.

Ms Seex stated: “When my investigator challenged this, the council eventually accepted that it wasn’t true.”

Discussions continued and Ms Seex concludes: “The council eventually, and reluctantly, agreed to pay the £108 a week funding offered by the NHS for the period it was lost due to the council’s obduracy.”

Another complaint highlighted to Mr Stigant in the annual review was when WSCC delayed a decision for seven months after assessing that a man needed ten hours of support a week. As a result of the complaint to the LGO, the council agreed to pay the man £2,000 in recognition of loss of support hours and £250 compensation.

The LGO also received a complaint about from woman concerned about the care her grandmother was receiving. When the LGO highlighted the fact that when a council arranges a place in a care home, it does so as an alternative to providing the care itself.

Ms Seex states: “Any action by [a care home] under the arrangement are treated as actions taken on behalf of the council and in the exercise of its function.”

After the LGO’s involvement, WSCC accepted this and agreed to deduct £1,000 from the care home charged and to pay the woman £250 compensation.

However, despite six cases being highlighted by the Local Government Ombudsman, the council was not found guilty of any maladminstration.

A council spokesman said many complaints were resolved without involvement from the LGO and compliments continue to outnumber complaints.

In a statement he said: “It is important to stress that there were no findings of maladministration recorded against the authority and that remedy payments following complaints fell from £31,013.70 the year before to £12,364.60.

“We are continually working to improve our service to residents and we always look closely at what lessons can be learned from complaints and the Ombudsman’s decisions. The vast majority of complaints are however resolved by the Council without the Ombudsman’s involvement.

“The Ombudsman has said that the authority’s average response time to complaints is faster than his target and is improved from the year before. The six instances of delay and poor information that have been cited must be seen in context of literally thousands of interactions that the County Council would deal with during the course of a typical year.

“A report to the Council’s Standards Committee shows that for the second year running the number of compliments (1,005) about council services exceeds complaints (639).