The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (“LGO”) has now published guidance for both care providers and local authorities regarding “good administrative practices and handling complaints” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March, the LGO suspended all other casework activity that requires information from care providers and local authorities, to allow them to concentrate on the significant demands and pressures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  The LGO has stated that it is continuing to work with key stakeholders to monitor the COVID-19 situation and has stated that it intends to re-engage with care providers, local authorities and complainants when it is appropriate to do so.

In the interim, the LGO has produced guidance (available here) which outlines the principles and key themes that the LGO expects care providers and local authorities to follow in order to achieve good administrative practice and good practice for handling complaints during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ombudsman “expects councils and care providers to respond appropriately to any complaints during this time of national emergency.”  He adds that “whilst we understand …. responses may look different to those we would expect during normal arrangements, we think that all urgent and serious public concerns should still receive attention.”

The LGO has stated that the guidance is designed “to act as a compass for local authorities and care providers” to assist them in responding to complaints during this trying and challenging time for the sector.

The guide is intended to act as an addendum to the LGO’s usual principles of good administrative practice and is structured around the same six principles which were in place prior to the COID-19 pandemic.

We have set out below a summary of the six key principles for good administration as suggested by the LGO for care providers and local authorities.

“1. Getting it right”

The first principle of good administration sets out that basic record keeping is vital during crisis working.   Having a clear audit trail of both how and why certain decisions have been made are crucial.  This is particularly important when usual practice is being departed from.  It is essential that care providers keep good oversight and direction and that responsibility remains with you when delegating responsibility to others.

“2. Being service-user focused”

When new or amended policies are introduced, frontline staff must be clear about any new expectations so that they can provide the right advice and information to service users.  It is important to always consider the individual circumstances of each resident or service user as and when government guidance changes and prior to making changes to a service users’ care.

“3. Being open and accountable”

If you are introducing new criteria, timescales or thresholds in your working, these should be open and transparent.  Care providers should be documenting and explaining the rationale for departing from normal practice, when appropriate.

“4. Acting fairly and proportionately”

Revised policies and processes should not lead to arbitrary decisions and actions.  Care providers need to ensure they have a clear framework for fair and consistent decision making and operational delivery.

“5. Putting things right”

Whilst it is recognised that complaint handling capacity will be reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important that local authorities and providers deal effectively with the most serious and high-risk issues that they are made aware of.   The LGO has suggested that authorities should use the approach of “inform, consider and explain”.  This means that authorities should be realistic with complainants about the timescale of their response, they should avoid blanket delays in dealing with all complains and they should make sure that delays and deviations from processes are documented appropriately.

“6. Seeking continuous improvement”

Complaints should be continued to be used as an effective and immediate form of feedback during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Complainants can inform providers of where new challenges are emerging and where things are going wrong.

If you require any assistance in understanding what the changes mean for you or responding to complaints, particularly during the COVID-19 crisis, please do get in touch with Laura Guntrip or 01202 786187 to discuss how we can assist you.