Council threatened with witness summons by Local Government Ombudsman: few surprised

Will Tuckley, Chief Executive of Tower Hamlets Council

Thanks once again to BBC Local Democracy reporter Rachael Burford who spotted a very interesting letter from Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, to Tower Hamlets CEO Will Tuckley castigating the Council for the abysmal manner in which it deals with complaints.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigates complaints about all local authorities and social care providers in England and every year it publishes the information it sends to councils to help with transparency and improve local services for residents.

Council threatened with summons three times

Seems that Tower Hamlets was so bad at responding to the Ombudsman’s queries about complaints that three times the Ombudsman had to threaten the council that if it did not come up with the goods they would issues it with a witness summons.

Surprising – for any local authority in the country apart from ours.

You can find all the letters here and this year’s letter here and below we have reproduced just one paragraph.

“24 July 2019

To: Will Tuckley, Chief Executive, London Borough of Tower Hamlets

From: Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Chair, Commission for Local Administration inEngland

Complaint Statistics

We have noted on numerous occasions this year that there have been problems with the way your Council has handled our enquiries.

Delay has been a significant theme, but there have also been problems with contacts not being responded to, correspondence seemingly going missing,and agreements not being implemented.

For example,in one instance, we made enquiries about a complaint but did not receive a response and chased after a month.

The Council could not find our initial enquiry and committed to a quick response after it had been resent, but it then had to be chased again when the information was not provided.

Eventually,we had to threaten a witness summons before we received all the requested information.

The problems continue throughout the complaint process; we had to chase your Council five times to confirm compliance with a remedy that had been recommended and agreed to.

The remedy was confirmed after four months, rather than the six weeks the Council had agreed to.

In two other cases, we had to threaten a witness summons because of the Council’s delays.

This is an unusual action that should never be necessary.”


Complaints statistics for all London local authorities

For your reading pleasure here are all the London councils ranked.

LGO complaints received 2016-17 (896KB)

Authority NameAdult
Social Care
and Tax
Corporate and
Other Services
Education and
Children's Services
Services, Public
Protection and
Highways and
HousingPlanning and
Waltham Forest1423421172239120152
Tower Hamlets1013101412143371114
Barking & Dagenham81642314202112109
Hammersmith & Fulham10817712176270
Richmond upon Thames1177773412159
Mean average135
Data Source:

LW Comment

Surprising thing here is that these statistics show that Tower Hamlets Council is not doing too badly. Reality is that before a resident can make a complaint to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman they first have to complain to the council. Only if that procedure is exhausted can they then complain to the Ombudsman.

And as Moley knows only too well that process is designed to sap the will from the most determined resident trying to hold the Council to account and most probably just give up.  To make matters worse a complaint to the Ombudsman can only be upheld if the complainant has suffered personally. 

So if for example someone should complain about two councillors being allowed by senior council officers to not properly declare their employment details in their official Register of Interests that will not be upheld irrespective of the details of the case.

Open? Transparent? Nuffink like it.

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2 thoughts on “Council threatened with witness summons by Local Government Ombudsman: few surprised

  1. I actually have an ongoing investigation against London Borough of Tower Hamlets regarding the withholding of money and their incompetent complaint officers after the Will Tuckley’s team disregarded my valid issues. I’m currently at the 9th month mark. At the 7th month mark, the council admitted that something has gone somewhere but then lied to the ombudsman. Maybe at 10 months the council will try to put things right? I’m glad my son is handling my complaint for me. I wouldn’t have been able to handle it all myself.

    1. Thanks for sharing this. In my experience the current council does not even know what ‘right’ means.

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