Dec 12 2012
Simple mistakes in public services are taking too long to rectify despite causing people distress and financial hardship, a watchdog has warned.
Pursuing complaints against public bodies required "confidence, persistence and, sometimes, sheer luck" because they were too often poorly handled, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman said.
Government departments and their agencies were missing opportunities to improve from feedback and were costing the taxpayer more than is necessary by allowing problems to escalate rather than resolving them at the earliest chance, it added.
In a report, the watchdog describes one case in which a mistaken legal aid decision led to a £135,000 bill whereas it would have costed £30,000 if undone when it was first raised.
Ombudsman Dame Julie Mellor, whose office investigates complaints that have not been resolved by departments and bodies themselves, said: "Small administrative errors can have a big impact on people's lives.
"As well as causing inconvenience and frustration, people who come to us for help are often experiencing real financial hardship or other difficulties because simple problems haven't been sorted out quickly enough.
"It should take days not months and, in some cases, years to sort out the smallest of mistakes. Every organisation makes mistakes, but when they do, they need to take the time to listen to people, to fix what's gone wrong, and then learn from what's happened, to stop the same thing happening to other service users."
The difficulty of making a complaint puts off more than a third of people from doing so, according to research by the Ombudsman. Some 18% of people wanted to complain about public services last year, of which 39% did not in fact do so.
People were put off by the difficulty of finding out who to complain to and concerns that it will take a long time, not make a difference and could result in even worse service.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "We are making radical reforms to our public services to improve them - giving everyone real choice in the services they use. In the past, complaints about the quality of service people receive haven't always been dealt with promptly and efficiently. We will examine carefully the issues raised by the Ombudsman."