Friday, 22 November 2013

Local Government Ombudsman Screws Up

Arguably not strictly down to NCC this but it is in connection with an NCC benefits decision so I think it is of interest.

Ask anybody who's had contact with them and they will tell you that the Local Government Ombudsman is a bag of shit. Even within the preposterously restricted boundaries they manage to set themselves for looking into complaints against councils they have a reputation for at best toothlessness and at worst outright bias. A true 'Watchpoodle' if you will.

It also turns out they are capable of being legally incompetent. On one of my random browsing sessions I found this decision on some complaints about Housing Benefit and DHP issues.

As far as the restricted boundaries I mention above are concerned, this paragraph on the DHP aspect sums it up nicely -

"The decision was based on the merits of the case. I am satisfied the Council carried out the correct process in deciding not to award a second DHP. It is not my role to comment on the merits of the decision itself."

Essentially, the Ombudsman is saying that as long as the procedure was followed, the fact that you may have been refused a DHP because of your penchant for wearing loud shirts in built up areas is none of their business. Yeah, you try explaining that too an ordinary Joe/Josie.

However more concerning is how the Ombudsman dealt with a complaint that NCC had wrongly suspended his benefit on two occasions. It kind of relates to those boundaries again -

"I did not investigate the complaint. Mr B complained that Mr B’s housing benefit was suspended on two occasions. He had the right to appeal to the social entitlement appeal tribunal over these decisions. I consider it would have been reasonable for him to exercise that right."

Oh dear. Can I refer m'learned friend to para 5 of the schedule to the Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit (Decisions and Appeals) Regs

"5. No appeal shall lie against a decision under Part III of these Regulations of a relevant authority relating to–

(a) suspension of a payment of benefit or of a reduction;


So, the Ombudsman refused to investigate an aspect of a complaint on the grounds that the complainant had a course of redress that he didn't, in fact, have at his disposal at all. That is a fundamental legal error and is totally unacceptable.

One wonders if this position was argued by NCC or whether the Ombudsman came up with it her/himself. If the former then NCC's HB staff need to have a word with themselves too (no change there) but either way, the Ombudsman's treatment of this complaint is way below standard.

NCC Breaches Code of Practice on Publicity - Again

Ok, so I actually rather liked this breach but I suppose we have to accept sauce for the goose etc.

I did mention briefly that NCC ran its own petition against the bedroom tax earlier this year. I signed it and recommended that you did too. However it disappeared off the website rather suddenly without explanation.

Turns out the petition was referred to the council's auditors and they have now decided that it breached the code of practice for local authority publicity. Presumably it failed the 'objectivity' test.

Despite the fact that I was and am foursquare behind the campaign against the bedroom tax and would support contributions from any quarter, with our objective heads on we have to note that NCC has form on this. It seems that certain sectors of the council have still not quite taken it in that NCC and the Labour Party are not one and the same. It's fine for councillors to shout from the rooftops about the injustice of the bedroom tax and I hope they do but it seems that it's not so fine to use council resources to do so.