News from the Ombudsman - Autumn 2021

News from the Ombudsman - Autumn 2021


Welcome to the latest edition of News from the Ombudsman. 

In this edition you can read about:

  • the findings from our Annual Review of Adult Social Care complaints, and what it tells us about the state of care
  • how we use what we find to inform national debates - this time around children's social care
  • how we look at your complaints through the lens of Human Rights
  • how we decide which complaints to investigate in detail
  • how we took part in Ombudsday 

We hope you enjoy reading our newsletter. If you'd like to hear more about the work we do, why not follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn?

Failing social care system reflected in relentless rise in upheld complaints

Sad older woman at rainy window

Last month we published our annual review of adult social care complaints for 2020-21. Over the past year, our adult social care investigations have shown a system that is increasingly failing some of those who need it most

The faults we find are not usually one-off mistakes – they are more frequently being caused by measures taken to balance the books in a system under immense funding pressures, and we see the human impact of this in the complaints coming to us.

However, the past year has not been all ‘doom and gloom’ for the sector – our evidence shows it responded well to COVID-19 and the majority of staff working in social care are doing an excellent job in spite of the pressures they are under.

We also used the evidence from our casework over the past 12 months to respond to care regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC)'s annual review of complaints.

Our Ombudsman, Michael King said:

"All too often, people who use adult social care services don’t have the freedom to shop around for their care or change their circumstances once they are in the system. Without that choice, service failings have an impact on the health and wellbeing of people in care and their families.”

Read the review

Shaping the future of Children's Social Care

Grandparents and toddler painting

We regularly use what we learn from our investigations to help inform national conversations.

Most recently, we've been informing the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care. We submitted our findings to its call for evidence ‘The Case for Change’ earlier in the year.

It is now reviewing the feedback received and has published all the responses, specifically quoting our submission. We will meet with them in the coming months to discuss the next phase of the review.

Read about the Review

How we consider your rights

Human Rights

What do a dropped kerb in London, a bin collection in the north of England, and a bus service in the Midlands all have in common?

Each of these have featured in recent decisions where  councils had failed to take account of people’s fundamental rights when delivering services. The failures include not making reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities and not assessing the impact on vulnerable groups when rearranging local services.

Human rights issues might seem far-removed from the day-to-day policies and decision-making of local authorities. But they frequently touch upon the rights and freedoms of individuals. 

In recent years we have worked closely with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and other Ombudsman schemes, to have a more rights-based approach to investigating. It isn’t a change of direction. We have always approached complaints by comparing the actions of local authorities against the requirements of the law and best practice. But talking about the obligations of the Human Rights Act and Equality Act are an important and complementary addition to our decisions.

Local authorities play a key role in promoting and protecting human rights. Therefore local authority complaints can help highlight occasions where individuals’ rights have been affected – and, importantly, how services might be improved to safeguard the rights of others.

How we decide what to investigate

Question marks in wooden blocks

Everyone’s complaint is important to them. So how do we make the difficult decisions about which cases to investigate in detail?

We are a free service but must use public money wisely. So we think carefully about which complaints we choose to investigate in detail and we will not carry out a detailed investigation on every complaint we receive.

On each complaint, after first checking we can investigate, we must decide whether we should. We call this the initial investigation, carried out by our assessment teams.

Of the four things we weigh up when deciding that initial investigation, we are increasingly looking at the amount of wider public interest the complaint has.

This does not mean we won’t investigate your complaint because only you alone have been affected. But we are more likely to decide to investigate if it affects people beyond yourself, you’ve suffered an abuse of power, or you are in a particularly vulnerable situation.

We are less likely to investigate complaints about problems likely to have caused minor irritation or upset, or where we cannot realistically achieve what you want.

This can sometimes be a tough message to give, if you have already complained to your council and feel strongly enough about your situation to ask us to intervene. And sometimes people are surprised we are able to choose which complaints to investigate in detail because people usually don’t have a choice about who provides their public service.

But like all Ombudsman schemes, we have to make decisions about what we investigate to provide the best possible service we can. We therefore focus on investigating complaints where what seems to have gone wrong is likely to have had a serious or long-term impact on people’s lives, or may affect many other people.

If you bring your complaint to us, we cannot commit to investigate it in detail. But we can guarantee we will carefully consider it independently and impartially, and explain clearly what we will do next.

Read more

Ombudsday 2021

Ombudsday 2021

To mark Ombudsday, this year we published a new page on our website, called 'How We Work' to let people know a bit more about what we do.

As the names suggests, Ombudsday is an annual awareness raising campaign, mainly on social media, shining a light on the important work Ombudsman schemes do across the world.

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