Complaints to New Forest District Council rise by nearly 50%

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New Forest District Council
New Forest District Council’s Appletree Court HQ in Lyndhurst

COMPLAINTS against New Forest District Council have risen by nearly 50% on last year, latest figures reveal.

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During 2018/19 there were 97 cases registered with the authority compared with 66 the year before – an increase of 47%.

The numbers were laid out in a report due to be discussed today (Thursday) by NFDC’s corporate overview and scrutiny panel. It said there were 38 justified complaints and 15 that ended with financial settlements.

Of the three that went for consideration by the independent Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, only one was upheld – although the ombudsman said the risk of identifying the complainant meant it could not be published.

Before the meeting Cllr Alexis McEvoy, the panel’s Conservative chair, said she was planning to question officers about the rise.

The explanation she had already been given, she said, was that the most complaints had come from services such as planning, which gave the kind of decisions customers might wish to challenge – rather than being the result of unfair or improper treatment.

Planning was the most-complained-about single service with 24 instances, the report said. Next was health and leisure with 16. The various different housing services made up a combined 25.

Cllr McEvoy said: “It’s a question I will be asking them about. It’s an apparent issue. I want a bit more meat on the bones about why, factually, they have gone up.

“It’s planning and housing – they are the sort of things where people are not happy with what they have been offered. I will not know that for sure until I have spoken at the meeting”

The question of funding was raised by Cllr Sandra Delemare, a Liberal Democrat member of the panel. She said: “It’s always a concern to see a rise in complaints against the council but I am pleased these are being closely monitored, particularly for any patterns that suggest obvious failings.

“With further Conservative funding cuts making services such as waste collection and recycling more difficult, along with ever-growing waiting lists for homes, I think we will see a trend emerging in future years.

“By and large, the council officers do a great job, but they just don’t have the resources they need.”

The report recommended that managers ensure employees “respond appropriately” to complaining customers, and to review complaints regularly for lessons.

It said: “The council’s complaints procedure continues to provide a robust system for investigating and resolving complaints.

“While there has been an increase in the number of complaints, there does not appear to be any single cause or underlying factor which needs to be addressed.”

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