Complaining About a Local Authority Service
Nowadays local authority environmental health departments are a much smaller team than they were in days gone by. Fewer staff means a bigger case load for officers who, inevitably, have less time to spend on your case or prioritise other duties. The services they offer out-of-office hours are also more likely to be restricted. It could be that this means that you do not get the service you deserve. In other cases it could be that the officer was slow to get back to you or did not respond to your email.
Whatever your concern, if you are unhappy with the service provided by your local authority and feel that they can or could of taken more action or responded quicker, you can make a complaint or ask them to reconsider. Often this will encourage more of a focus on your case. Never feel bad about complaining; in fact, the more people complain the more likely it is that any deficiencies in the service are highlighted.
Most Councils will have basic set of standards that they measure themselves against to check on performance. Often these will be linked to administrative tasks like how long it take for them to return your call or make a first response to your noise issue (for example, 48 hours). If you are going to complain it may be worth making yourself aware of the Local Authority’s and the specific department’s service standards as these can be useful in demonstrating that the service that you received was inadequate.
Keeping a detailed diary of all of your phone calls and correspondence will enable you to produce an accurate account of your complaint. Correspondence by email allows you to keep a trail evidence. A brief note of phone calls may contain a time, date, a brief outline of what was discussed and brief statement of any conclusions/decisions that were made.
A Staged Approach
If you would like to make a complaint, wish the case to be reviewed or would like an explanation of any decision made, you should first go to the head of service or team manager of that service. You may request that the explanation be provided to you in writing.
Alternatively, you can make a formal complaint to your Council about the standard of service you have received. It may not surprise you to learn that your complaint will be dealt with in stages by the Council. They usually have a two or three step complaints process where complaints are escalated if you are unhappy with the first response given. The procedures should be spelt out to you shortly after your complaint is made and a timeframe provided. Expect it to take a number of weeks.
If you remain unsatisfied with the response you may complain directly to the Local Authority Ombudsman. They will take an independent review of your case. It is not their place to determine whether or not a statutory nuisance existed; they are, however, able to examine the way the local authority investigated your case. In that respect they are able to determine, for example, whether:
- They exercised their statutory duties to investigate properly or serve notices (take action) where problems were found to exist;
- They took too long to carry out their functions (thereby allowing unnecessary delay and suffering);
- They failed to follow guidance or their own procedures properly;
- They failed to consider (or placed undue significance on) evidence provided by you or another party; or
- They were inconsistent in their approach.
If the Ombudsman feels that the Council should have (or could have acted) differently they can make recommendations to the Council. These may include re-evaluation and/or payment of compensation. They can not, however, force the Council to change their decision.