COMPLAINTS about children and education topped the charts of most complained about topics to councils in the South East this year.

The data analyses complaints and enquiries the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has received over the past 12 months within the Brighton and Hove City Council, East Sussex County Council and West Sussex County Council boundaries.

The data revealed 64 per cent of all complaints in the South East were upheld in 2020/21 – up from 56 per cent the previous year.

West Sussex County Council and Brighton and Hove City Council upheld 75 per cent of complaints investigated, while East Sussex County Council upheld 70 per cent.

A total of 52 complaints finished with upheld decisions across the three councils.

The most complaints in the South East (23 per cent) were about children and education, while the fewest complaints (6 per cent) were about benefits and taxation.

The highest uphold rate was with children and education (85 per cent), while the lowest was planning (40 per cent).

Nationally, the ombudsman has upheld a greater proportion of investigations (67 per cent) over the past year than ever before.

Despite being closed to new complaints at the height of the first Covid-19 lockdown, the ombudsman still received 11,830 complaints and enquiries from members of the public.

The investigations undertaken over the past year led to 3,104 recommendations to put things right for individuals.

There were also 1,488 recommendations for councils to improve their services for others.

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman Michael King said while every year has seen its challenges, this year has been the most difficult for local authorities.

“While the way local authorities dealt with the pressures of Covid-19 is still being played out in our casework, early indications suggest it is only widening the cracks that were already there, and has deepened our concerns about the status of complaints services within councils,” he said.

“These concerns are not new and cannot be wholly attributed to the trials of the pandemic.

“I am concerned about the general erosion to the visibility, capacity, and status of complaint functions within councils.

“Listening to public complaints is an essential part of a well-run and properly accountable local authority, committed to public engagement, learning, and improvement. I know the best councils still understand this and put local democracy and good complaints handling at the forefront of their services.”

The 21 upheld decisions in the West Sussex County Council area included a woman who complained about the council’s delay in issuing a final education, health and care plan, which resulted in the woman’s son not receiving sufficient special educational provision for 11 weeks.

She says taking the matter to a tribunal cost her around £4,000 in legal fees.

After the investigation, the council has agreed to make a payment of £600 to acknowledge the impact of this.

The ombudsman issues a separate annual review for the adult social care cases it investigates, covering both local councils and independent care providers. This report is published in autumn.