Steps to follow
Call the council and tell them you want to make a complaint. They will be able to tell you which department you need to complain to and who in that department you should address the complaint to (this will usually be the head of the relevant department).
Ask if there is a specific complaints procedure you need to go through for the type of complaint you are making. Also find out who will be handling your complaint.
Complain as soon as possible after the event as possible while the details of the incident you’re not happy about are still fresh in your mind (there may be a time limit imposed by your local council for complaining about certain matters, so the sooner you complain the better).
If possible, put the complaint in writing (there may be a facility for making a complaint online which might be easier for you). Make sure you very clearly head the letter “Complaint”.
When writing your complaint, be concise. Tell them clearly what happened and why you’re not happy. Use numbered paragraphs and headings to emphasize the important issues. Provide your contact details – including phone number, email and postal addresses and let them know the best method to contact you if the person investigating your complaint needs to.
Provide copies of all documentation relevant to your complaint, making sure you keep copies for yourself.
Make notes of any phone conversations you have about the complaint, including the name of the person you talked to, and keep copies of any correspondence.
Explain clearly what you think should be done to resolve the problem – be realistic in what you ask for.
If you are sent something by the investigating officer or asked questions, respond in a timely manner.
In all your communications – whether phone, letter or email – stay calm and polite: an aggressive attitude is almost always counter-productive.
Be patient within reason: get an estimated time frame of how long the investigation of the complaint is likely to take – if it goes over that time limit, feel free to chase.
If you’re not happy with the council’s decision you can take your complaint – usually after about 12 weeks after you made the initial complaint to the local authority – to the local government ombudsman. They will investigate the matter and will make recommendations which the council will usually follow. You must make your complaint to the ombudsman within a year of the problem.
What to watch out for
The ombudsman is obliged to tell councils about all complaints made against them, even if it decides not to investigate. It will send a copy of your complaint and its decision letter to the council. It may send the council copies of any documents you provide in support of your complaint. The ombudsman cannot stop a council taking action against you while it investigates your complaint.
Solicitor’s top tip
Unless the complaint is urgent (eg, if there’s a risk to your health or it’s about a school place for an impending term), go through the council’s own complaints procedure before approaching the ombudsman – the ombudsman will almost certainly throw the matter back to the council to deal with first so you’ll have wasted precious time. The council may have a number of stages to its complaints procedure so make sure you go through them all.
DirectGov - Make a complaint about your local council
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