Agenda and minutes

Adjudication & Review Committee (decommissioned 13th June 2022) - Wednesday, 6th August, 2014 7.30 pm

Venue: Town Hall, Main Road, Romford

Contact: Grant Soderberg Tel: 01708 433091  e-mail:  grant.soderberg@onesource.co.uk

Items
No. Item

1.

MINUTES pdf icon PDF 514 KB

To approve as a correct record, the Minutes of the Committee held on 17 April 2014 and to authorise the Chairman to sign them

Minutes:

The Minutes of the Meeting held on 17 April 2014 were accepted and signed by the Chairman.

 

2.

PRESENTATION BY THE HEAD OF BUSINESS & PERFORMANCE (CHILDREN, ADULTS AND HOUSING) CONCERNING COMPLAINTS MANAGEMENT IN THE DIRECTORATE pdf icon PDF 136 KB

Minutes:

Members received a presentation from the Head of Business & Performance concerning the recent – and on-going – restructure of the complaints management teams across the directorate and were provided with an overview of the number and range of complaints received and considered by the team (appended to the Minutes of the meeting).

 

The Committee was informed that since end April, the centralised Complaints, Information and Communications Team sitting within the Business and Performance service now dealt with all compliments, complaints, Freedom of Information requests, Data Protection Act requests and MP / Member enquiries arising within the whole Children, Adults and Housing directorate – which included Children’s Services, Adult Social Care & Commissioning, Learning & Achievement and from the end of April 2014 Homes and Housing.  It was stated that complaints were dealt with slightly differently across the four service areas.

 

Whilst Housing complaints were dealt with through the Council’s Corporate Complaints process, complaints within Children’s and Adult Social Care were (mostly) dealt with under various legislation procedures and school appeals were likewise not part of the Corporate Complaints process but considered by panels of Independent Persons.  It was emphasised however, that whatever the route through the complaints process, a complainant could refer the matter to either an Ombudsman (Local Government or Housing) or to the Education Funding Agency if the complaint was about an appeal for a place at an Academy.

 

Members were informed that increasingly, complaints were resolved at an early stage – either a “pre-stage one” or an “informal” stage.  It was explained that this approach had been adopted – and was being rolled-out across the directorate – because it afforded the earliest opportunity for the service to address a problem with the greatest degree of flexibility and it was shown that this approach was consistently (though not completely) successful – but it did mean that formal complaint numbers could be kept to a minimum.

 

By way of example Members were informed that in the first quarter of the year, Housing had received 358 complaints (more than the other services combined).  Of these, 176 were dealt with at the informal stage, 167 resolved at Stage One and only 15 cases went beyond that: 11 resolved at Stage Two and four cases progressing to Stage Three.

 

There had been 227 Member/MP enquiries (during a period which covered the run-up to the Local Elections – so the figure was somewhat atypical).  193 (85%) concerned Homes & Housing.  The other areas were very few.

 

During the period, there had been 162 Freedom of Information requests.  It was made clear that there were fewer than 162 individual requests as most “requests” were for multiple answers and each “answer” was counted separately.  51 requests had been received for Housing, 48 for Learning and Achievement, 27 Adult Services and 36 for Children’s Services.

 

Data protection enquiries had totalled six: five for Housing and the sixth for Children’s Services, whilst the directorate had received a total of 90 compliments, 60 of which were for Housing and 25 for  ...  view the full minutes text for item 2.

3.

PRESENTATION BY THE CORPORATE POLICY AND COMMUNITY MANAGER (COMMUNITY & ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT) CONCERNING COMPLAINTS AND MEMBER/MP ENQUIRIES pdf icon PDF 108 KB

Minutes:

Corporate Complaints:

 

Members received a presentation from the Corporate Policy and Community Manager providing them with an update on Corporate Complaints, Member and MP Enquiries for the three months from 1 April – 30 June 2014 (appended to the Minutes of the meeting).  The Committee was informed that not only had the number of complaints increased over the same period in 2013 (596 against 356), but the number of cases completed within 10 working days had also increased (480 as opposed to 231) and which represented a 82% success rate in 2014 to only 65% in the same period in 2013.  However, it was pointed out that this quarter included the run-up to the Local Elections and, in addition, figures recorded on the Housing database OHMS was now being added to CRM complaint figures so it was not quite “like for like”.

 

The services with the highest proportion of complaints remained the outward facing ones: StreetCare (131) and Homes and Housing (315).  Regulatory Services (which now included Trading Standards, Licensing and Environmental Health) had 38 cases.

 

Member & MP Enquiries:

 

In the same period, MP and Member enquiries had numbered 848 compared with 911 in the same period in 2013.  Of these 663 had been responded to within ten working days compared with 608 the previous year – a rise to 78% from 67%.

 

By far the largest number of enquiries concerned StreetCare (478 – 338 of which were responded to within 10 working days).  Homes and Housing related enquiries was the second highest area of concern with 223 – of which 203 had a response within ten working days.  In addition, Regulatory Services had 45 enquiries of which 37 received responses within 10 working days and Leisure Services attracted 42 enquiries of which 38 had a response within 10 working days.

 

An additional report element involved the 10 highest reporting MPs / Members with Andrew Rosindell MP (consistently high across each of the three months) and former councillor Andrew Curtin topping the chart with 60 enquiries during April.

 

The Committee noted the oral update and thanked the Corporate Policy and Community Manager for her presentation.

 

4.

REPORT ON THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT OMBUDSMAN'S ANNUAL LETTER FOR 2013/14 pdf icon PDF 214 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee was informed about the Annual Letter from the Local Government Ombudsman.  It was drawn to its attention that the figures provided by the Ombudsman would not – in any way agree with those the Council had been provided with over the same period.  The reason for this was principally that the Ombudsman had presented the Council with every contact she had received, whether or not that contact had been passed back to the Council.  In fact, the Ombudsman stated that there had been 119 cases – but she had made 121 decisions.  The Council had only received 72 cases through the year, of which only 62 appeared on the database which had been provided to the Council after requests had been made to her office in order to address the differences between the published Ombudsman figures and those the Council had been notified about.

 

Members were invited to read the LGO’s letter and note that (for the second year running), it was a generic letter and no longer included any detail which referred specifically to Havering.  Members’ attention was also drawn to some discrepancies between the itemised categories which had been provided to the Council with the Annual Letter and the records held which the Ombudsman provided to the Council on request.

 

The Committee was informed that having had occasion to question the figures published by the Ombudsman (without the Council having had an opportunity – as had been the practice in the recent past - to reconcile the statistics held with those of the Ombudsman), the Council had been invited by the Ombudsman to provide a synopsis of the issues in order for them to be considered with a view to the Ombudsman improving and developing this aspect of her service.

 

The Committee:

 

1.            Noted the contents of the Ombudsman’s Annual Letter.

 

2.            Decided that the Letter should be sent to the Chairmen of the Overview and Scrutiny Committees and their comments sought.

 

3.            Authorised a letter of response to be prepared and sent to the Local Government Ombudsman about this year’s letter.

 

4.            Authorised the statistics provided by the LGO to be published on Calendar Brief along with a brief commentary.

 

5.

UPDATE ON LGO ACTIVITY FOR THE YEAR TO DATE pdf icon PDF 162 KB

Statistical detail to follow.

Minutes:

The Committee was reminded of the recent changes made to the formal reasons given by the LGO to her decisions.  Whilst this, in itself, had not been unusual and had happened twice over the past three or four years, on this occasion there had been two disquieting elements which were likely to impact on the way the public perceived Ombudsman involvement in local administration in future.

 

The first issue arose because the Ombudsman had made a partial change in February, but had not informed anyone that she had done so.  Previously, any changes had been announced ahead of their implementation and that implementation usually coincided with the commencement of the new civic year.

 

A second phase of change had indeed commenced on 1 April and now the decision categories – whilst rationalised – had risen to nine, six of which referred to “maladministration” with or without “injustice” and whether or not a formal Report was involved.  Members were informed that whereas the previous decisions had referred to “fault”, “local settlement” and the “Ombudsman’s discretion”, the terminology was now whether or not the local authority was guilty of “maladministration – a term which had, hitherto, been reserved for formal Reports alone.  The Committee was also informed that the Chair of the Public Services Complaints Network (PSCN) for London and the Home Counties, had recently written to the LGO setting out the concerns of PSCN members about the extended use of the terms and asking for changes to be made.

 

This being the first meeting of the new Administration, Members were provided with an overview of the statistics which they would be receiving on a monthly basis and were invited to seek explanation if any of the figures appeared unclear (appended to the Minutes of the meeting including item 6).

 

The Committee noted the report.

 

6.

UPDATE ON STAGE THREE ACTIVITY FOR THE YEAR TO DATE & SUGGESTED CHANGES pdf icon PDF 160 KB

Members are invited to note the review and decide whether the proposed changes to the Stage Three process should be implemented

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee received a report which set out the background to the Corporate Complaints process and provided an evaluation and analysis of Stage Three activity for 2013/14 and the year to date (appended to the Minutes of the meeting for item 5).  During the previous year, there had been 24 cases referred by officer for Members to consider.  At the end of the year, six cases were carried forward and, at the end of July, a further six cases had been commenced.

 

Members were reminded that Stage Three embraced Member Reviews (currently called “Initial Assessment Panels”, formal hearings and the activity of the Ombudsmen (Local Government, Housing and Parliamentary and Health Service, all of which impacted on the Council’s complaints handling process).

 

The Committee was invited to consider whether the term “Initial Assessment Panel” (IAP) which had been coined in 2012, should now be renamed “Member Review Panel” to bring its name into line with what the IAP had become in practice.  It was explained that since the IAP had been established, fewer and fewer corporate complaints had been referred to formal hearings as Members decided that the issues before them could be addressed without the need for a formal hearing.  Members were assured that – apart from the name – the panels would retain the discretion to refer any matter they wished to a formal hearing, so in reality, the position would be merely matching the panel’s name to what it was already doing in practice.

 

The reason for making this request was that a request would need to be made to the Governance Committee for the name change to be made in the Constitution.

 

The report summarised the effects which the changes to the funding of the Ombudsman had had to the way in which she was able to deploy and use her resources.  The most significant change was the fall-off in the number of referrals (Premature complaints) down from 49 in 2012/13 to 10 in the year just ended.  Another area of significant change was in the fall in the number of complaints actually investigated and the rise in formal Enquiries which were followed by Decisions with no further reference to the Council.  This latter, it was argued, was in part responsible for escalation in the number of requests for Stage Three Member Reviews.

 

The Committee:

 

1.            Noted the report

2.            Requested that this form of report continue to come to it on a regular basis

3.            Authorised the change of name of the “Initial Assessment Panel” to “Member Review Panel” and that a report be sent to the Governance Committee to make any necessary changes to the text in the Constitution

 

7.

REVISION OF THE FORMAL PROCESS FOR MEMBER CONDUCT COMPLAINTS pdf icon PDF 135 KB

The Chairman is to announce a review of the procedures under which Member conduct complaints are conducted.  Appended is the process agreed by Council at its meeting held on 13 June 2012 and the accompanying Minute.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Chairman introduced this subject, explaining that he had recently Chaired a panel set up to consider the conduct of certain Members and had been surprised to be told – when he had asked for a copy of the procedures governing such panels – that none existed.  He had felt that this was most unsatisfactory and had been even more amazed when having dealt with the matter he had received a Code of Conduct which had been approved by Council on 13 June 2012. 

 

He considered that the confusion over this important element needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency and invited the Committee to agree to initiate a review of the current Havering Code in comparison with a number of other councils’ codes in order to draft a suitable Code to go forward with.

 

The Committee resolved to initiate a review of the current Code of Conduct and directed that five other codes be provided to it for comparison and that this be available for the next meeting.