Suggested questions to help councillors scrutinise their local services
We believe that complaints raised by the public can be an important source of information to help councillors identify issues that are affecting local people. Complaints can therefore play a key part in supporting the scrutiny of public services.
Below are range of questions that councillors could ask their local authorities on different topics. The questions are from our Focus Reports - visit the Focus Reports page for the reports in full.
Disabled Facilities Grants
Does your council:
- follow our good practice?
- consistently meet legislative deadlines for determining DFG applications and completing work?
- have input into how the Better Care Fund is used in its area?
- have the ability to help people where the cost of work needed exceeds the maximum grant available?
- have strong links with its partners to ensure adaptations are delivered quickly and effectively?
From the focus report: Making a house a home: Local Authorities and disabled adaptations
Allocating social housing
We expect significant changes to a local housing authority’s allocation scheme to be considered by a committee of councillors before being implemented. Councillors play an important role in scrutinising proposed changes to an allocation scheme and have the opportunity to question relevant officers. The types of questions councillors may ask will vary depending on the changes proposed, but relevant considerations will normally include:
- has the council consulted all relevant internal and external stakeholders?
- has the council given proper consideration to government guidance on housing allocations?
- are any departures from government recommendations properly considered and justified?
- has the council considered its duties under the Equalities Act 2010?
- what assessment has been made of the impact of the proposed changes on existing applicants?
- are the proposed changes in line with the council’s wider objectives including policies relating to planning and affordable housing?
- how will the impact of the changes be assessed and when will the scheme be reviewed?
From the Focus Report:
Top-up fees: paying for care homes
Does your council:
- ensure there is sufficient variety of residential care providers to give people the best choice?
- aim to develop a market that delivers a wide range of sustainable high-quality care and support services
- available to your communities?
- have internal policies and procedures that reflect the requirements of the Care Act 2014?
- give people written information about charging for residential placements before they start looking for
- placements and record when this has been done?
- document offers of affordable placements?
- document its response when the suitability of such offers is questioned?
- put its funding decisions in writing?
- assess people’s needs before making decisions which affect their finances?
- have the right plans in place to provide advocacy, information and advice?
- have systems in place to signpost people to financial advice where needed?
From the Focus Report:
Children's Social Care Complaints
Does your council:
- follow the good practice advice in the report?
- ensure complaint handling staff are fully trained on the children’s social care complaints system?
- ensure independent investigators or people, employed from outside the council, are aware of the need for proportionate stage 2 investigation?
- publish information about children’s service complaints it receives, which is easily accessible to the public, including the outcomes and how the council uses them to improve services?
- actively encourage scrutiny of complaints data in this area, and if so at what forum?
From the focus report: Are we getting the best from children’s social care complaints?
Encouraging local accountability – questions for scrutiny
- Does the council conform with the good practice check list?
- What is the council’s target for building new homes and is it likely to achieve this?
- Failure to provide new homes can have a significant effect on the local economy and housing market. What type of applications are currently decided by officers and should this be reviewed?
- How does the “call in” procedure work and how often is it used?
- How many of the council’s decisions are overturned by the Planning Inspector?
- How many complaints does the council receive about decisions on planning applications, what are the outcomes and how has the council used them to improve its services?
From the focus report: Not in my back yard: Local people and the planning process
Schools Admissions Appeals Process
Local authorities in England have an important role to play in supporting parental choice of school and fair local admission arrangements. Elected members should ensure that the admission appeal process is independent, fair and robust in accordance with statutory guidance. They should reassure themselves:
- the recruitment and appointment of independent admission appeal panel members is open and transparent;
- that panel members, in particular Chairs, are adequately trained and supported by professional clerks;
- that panel clerks are kept up to date on the law, guidance and best practice;
- that admission criteria are being effectively and fairly applied;
- the information and advice for parents about the appeal process is clear, readily available and signposted e.g the appeals timetable must be published in line with timescales set out in the Schools Admissions Code.
From the focus report:
Special Educational Needs
Our experiences of complaints that are typically raised about local authority SEN services have highlighted a number of key questions that elected members could ask officers when scrutinising those services.
- Does the council have an SEN strategy in place that is informed by known demographic information?
- What steps do the council take to ensure the child, young person and their parents are enabled to participate as fully as possible in decisions about them?
- Given the significant constraints on resources, how is the council ensuring that sufficient, quality resources and expertise are available now and in the future?
- How will the council deliver the requirements in the Children and Families Bill for enhanced partnership working, with the NHS in particular, to meet the shorter assessment timescales?
From the focus report: Special Educational Needs: preparing for the future
Family and Friends Foster Carers
Our experiences of the types of complaints that are typically raised about family and friends carers have highlighted a number of key questions that elected members could ask officers locally:
- Has the council published a clear policy on family and friends carers?
- Are the rates to carers being paid in accordance with statutory guidance?
- Are decisions about providing support being made based on the child’s needs as opposed to financial constraints?
- Are timely checks being made with family and friends carers to ensure the suitability of any new arrangement?
- What complaints have been made about family and friends carers, what are the outcomes and how has the council used them to improve its services?
From the focus report: Family values: Council services to family and friends who care for others’ children
Bed and Breakfast Acommodation for Homeless Families
Our experiences of the types of complaints that are typically raised about local authority use of bed and breakfast accommodation have highlighted a number of key questions that elected members could ask officers when scrutinising homelessness services:
- How many families have been in bed and breakfast accommodation for more than six weeks?
- How many 16 and 17 year olds have been placed in bed and breakfast accommodation?
- Does the local authority have a homelessness strategy and how is its implementation being assessed by senior officers?
- What complaints have been raised about homelessness services, what were the outcomes and how has the council improved its services as a result?