CITY of York Council has been criticised for the length of time it takes to respond to complaints.

The Local Government Ombudsman today released its annual review letters showing the performance of local authorities across England.

The ombudsman Jane Martin has written to City of York Council's chief executive Kersten England and council leader James Alexander with details of the 72 complaints and enquiries her office received about the council.

>>> Read the letter here

The ombudsman wrote: "I am concerned that on several occasions the council has provided late responses to enquiries. This included a school admissions appeals case which should be treated as urgent. The Council did not respond to enquiries for over a month, despite reminders. In one planning complaint, the response was slightly late and incomplete. The council then delayed the case by several months whilst resolving a matter of disclosure on certain documents."

The ombudsman's office has also run up against problems getting simple information from the council in less than 20 days, and Dr Martin added: "Despite efforts to explain that provision of this information can lead to early resolution or closure of the case, the council has, on occasions, appeared reluctant to quickly provide information which should be readily accessible."

She said this made more work for the council in the long term and urged Mrs England to review the way the council has dealt with complaints this year.

She cited one complex adoption complaint, in which the LGO received no confirmation its recommendations would be implemented, and said: "This case also illustrates the communication difficulties we are having with the council, and despite repeated chasing, we do not always receive a response to calls or correspondence."

Among them the biggest proportion - 13 - were about environmental services and public protection and regulation, while related related to planning and development and nine each to housing, highways and transport, education and children's care services, and adult care. Six of the complaints against the council were upheld, while 23 were sent back for local resolutions to be found, 19 were closed after just initial enquiries, and 14 were not upheld.

But because of a change in the way the ombudsman records complaints, it is impossible to compare this year's performance with last year's, but the review does point out significant concerns about delays in council responses.

Ian Floyd, the council's director of customer and business support, said this evening: “We’re always aiming to improve the council’s complaints procedure and our systems and processes as a whole.

"Staff have worked hard to see an improvement since last year and, like local authorities up and down the country, in the face of an increase in activity year on year.

"We will look to further improve this over the coming year through the council’s Rewiring Public Services Transformation Programme.”

North Yorkshire County Council featured in 86 complaints and enquiries over the year - 38 of those about education and children's services - also came under fire for long delays in replying to the ombudsman's official enquiries, especially in the area of adult social care.

In the East Riding the unitary authority featured in 90 complaints, 23 of them about education and children's services.

Across the rest of the region - in Harrogate, Selby, Hambleton and Ryedale - the largest number of complaints have come in the area of planning and development, with Selby in particular singled out for criticism after the District Council declined to follow the ombudsman's recommendations over a planning complaint.

In a separate case that emerged today, the Information Commissioner's Office rapped the council for its handling of seven Freedom of Information requests by local resident Mike Hammill.

  • Councils' letters from the LGO for this year and previous years can be read on the LGO website.