The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has responded to the COVID-19 crisis by suspending all its casework activity that would have demanded information or other action by organisations falling within its scope. However, in a guide published at the start of May, the Ombudsman has made clear that
“We expect councils and care providers to respond appropriately to any complaints during this time of national emergency. Resources are stretched, redeployed and operating under emerging and fast changing rules and guidance. But, whilst we understand their 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.
When normal services resume, we will inevitably investigate complaints about what happened during this crisis phase.”
The same guide contains an addendum to its previously-published principles of good administrative practice, on the basis that those principles are designed “apply equally well under crisis conditions. They are designed to act as a compass, not as a map. The compass will work equally well, no matter how rough the terrain is to be crossed.” The guide frames potential COVID-19 responses around the principles of (1) getting it right; (2) being service-user focused; (3) being open and accountable; (4) acting fairly and proportionately; (5) putting things right; and (6) seeking continuous improvement. As the Ombudsman notes, “[i]t is intended to be helpful in encouraging organisations to reflect on practice during the crisis, and to make clear the standards we expect and the way we will consider complaints when we investigate downstream.”