Councils that cannot meet spending commitments must issue section 114 notices but cannot go ‘bankrupt’
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Table of contents
- What is the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman?
- What does the LGSCO do?
- What can I complain about?
- Circumstances when the LGSCO cannot investigate
- Can an organisation complain to the LGSCO?
- How do I complain?
- What is the LGSCO complaints process?
- What can the LGSCO do?
- What are public interest reports?
- Can I challenge the Ombudsman’s decision?
- What is Judicial Review?
- Oversight of the LGSCO
- What is the Commission for Local Administration?
- The Ombudsman and devolution
- Further reading
What is the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman?
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) was set up by the Local Government Act 1974 to conduct investigations into complaints from members of the public who consider that they have suffered injustice as a result of maladministration.
The current Ombudsman, Michael King, was appointed on 11 January 2017.
What does the LGSCO do?
The LGSCO provides an independent complaint handling service for complaints that have not been resolved by local authorities and adult social care providers.
The Ombudsman seeks to resolve complaints and help improve services in the future. It also provides councils with guidance to deal with complaints in a transparent and fair manner.
What can I complain about?
The LGSCO looks at complaints about councils and some other authorities and organisations, including education admissions appeal panels and adult social care providers (such as care homes and home care providers). See What you can complain about.
The Ombudsman can look at complaints about council services no matter who provides them. For example, when a council pays a private company to provide some of its services, the LGSCO can investigate that complaint as if the council provided the service directly.
The LGSCO’s Complaint fact sheets homepage provides detailed guidance on the common types of complaint they can investigate.
Circumstances when the LGSCO cannot investigate
The LGSCO cannot usually look at a complaint if:
- you have left it more than 12 months since knowing about the problem
- the matter has not affected you personally or caused you an injustice
- the issue affects most people in the council’s area
- you have, or had, a right to appeal or take legal action and we think it is reasonable for you to have done so. This might be:
- to a tribunal (such as the Housing Benefit Appeals Service)
- to a government minister (such as a planning appeal)
- via the courts
- if the complaint is about personnel matters (such as your employment or disciplinary issues)
Can an organisation complain to the LGSCO?
No, the LGSCO will only accept complaints from individuals who have been affected personally by the issue they are complaining about.
How do I complain?
The LGSCO’s website details the six steps to making a complaint in How to complain.
You must first put your complaint to the organisation concerned to give them a chance to resolve the complaint. This usually means going through all stages of the organisation’s complaints process. The LGSCO has published Top tips for making a complaint to a council or care provider.
It is not necessary to use every stage of the organisation’s own complaints procedure before referring the complaint to the Ombudsman if no response has been received within a ‘reasonable time’. The LGSCO says up to 12 weeks is usually a reasonable time. But this may be longer for complaints about social care, which follow a statutory process.
The LGSCO asks that you register a complaint online using their Complaint form. This requires you to create an account which provides access to the status of the case. Online registration helps to keep telephone helplines for people who cannot go online. Contact the LGSCO for alternative means of contact: post, telephone and an online British Sign Language service.
What is the LGSCO complaints process?
The LGSCO assesses the case and decides whether to look at the complaint in more detail. See the Assessment Code for more information about the assessment process. If the LGSCO decides to look into the complaint, it is passed to the investigation team who may require the organisation concerned to provide information.
The LGSCO aims to make a decision on complaints in 26 weeks. Some complicated cases can take longer to allow the LGSCO to gather enough information to make a fair decision. LGSCO’s How we work sets out the Ombudsman’s principles.
What can the LGSCO do?
Following their decision, the LGSCO can ask the organisation to:
- apologise to you
- provide a service you should have had
- make a decision it should have done before
- reconsider a decision it did not take properly in the first place
- improve its procedures so similar problems do not happen again
- make a payment
The LGSCO does not have legal powers to force organisations they investigate to follow their recommendations, but organisations usually do agree to them.
The LGSCO publishes all decisions six weeks after the date of the decision, unless they decide it is not in your best interests to do so.
What are public interest reports?
The LGSCO publishes public interest reports which highlight systemic and serious issues.
Can I challenge the Ombudsman’s decision?
The Ombudsman’s decisions are final, but the LGSCO will review their decision if new and relevant information becomes available, or if it can be proved the decision was based on vital facts that were inaccurate. See LGSCO procedures for Challenging decisions for more information.
To request a review, you should fill in Your complaint, our decision: review request form within one month of the Ombudsman’s decision. The LGSCO will then decide whether to review or change their decision.
It is also possible to make a complaint about the LGSCO service if dissatisfied with the level of service provided by the LGSCO.
There is no formal right of appeal against decisions of the LGSCO but individuals can apply to the High Court to challenge an Ombudsman’s decision because it is legally flawed – this is called judicial review.
What is Judicial Review?
A complainant can apply to the courts for a Judicial Review on the basis that the legal basis of the Ombudsman’s decision is flawed. However, this is a costly and complex process and individuals should seek legal advice from a suitably qualified professional if they are considering initiating judicial review proceedings. The statutory time limit for bringing a claim for judicial review is three months from the date of the Ombudsman’s final report decision.
Legal help or advice should be given by a suitably qualified person with professional liability insurance. Members of Parliament are unable to provide legal advice, but they may point constituents towards information about sources of legal help and advice. The Library briefing Legal help: where to go and how to pay provides information on sources of advice.
A short guide by the Public Law Project, An Introduction to Judicial Review, gives a simple overview of the system.
The Ministry of Justice has published a Pre-Action Protocol for Judicial Review (England and Wales) that sets out a code of good practice and the steps which parties should generally follow before making a claim for judicial review.
Oversight of the LGSCO
The LGSCO is a statutory body independent of both Government and Parliament. It is publicly funded but is not answerable, in terms of its decisions on cases, to a Secretary of State or to Parliament.
LGSCO Annual report and accounts are laid before Parliament. These reports concentrate on the performance of the LGSCO against their strategic objectives.
The LGSCO has jurisdiction over local authorities in England and registered care providers and is sponsored by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC). The details of the working relationship are set out in a Framework Document (PDF).
Parliamentary questions to the Government about the LGSCO are answered by a DLUHC Minister or Health and Social Care Minister as appropriate.
What is the Commission for Local Administration?
The Commission for Local Administration is the body that runs the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman service. It is an independent body funded by government grant.
The work of the LGSCO is overseen by the Commission for Local Administration in England. The Chair of the LGSCO (Michael King) and the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman are ex officio members of the Commission, together with three advisory members.
The Commission operates as the board of the LGSCO, setting strategic priorities and providing scrutiny of LGSCO’s performance against those priorities. The Executive Team is responsible for the day-to-day management of its operations.
The Ombudsman and devolution
The LGO service covers England: similar duties are carried out by the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman and the Northern Ireland Ombudsman. Complaints against central government departments and health bodies in England are covered by the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman.
- Commons Library briefing, The Local Government Ombudsman
- Commons Library briefing, Parish and town councils: recent issues
- LGSCO Guidance notes – Guidance on complaint handling and good administrative practice
- LGSCO Focus reports – highlight common or systemic issues and share learning from complaints to help councils and care providers make improvements
- LGSCO Annual reviews of complaints
- LGSCO Annual business plans
- LGSCO Annual Report and Accounts
The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.
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