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General

Harrow Council wants to inform residents that the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) issued a report highlighting some issues with our existing assessment process for concessionary travel. This refers to issues with the way 8 complaints received between 2016 and 2018 were handled.

Notice ID: WAT1944656

Notice effective from
10th December 2020 to 9th January 2021

Harrow Council wants to inform residents that the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) issued a report highlighting some issues with our existing assessment process for concessionary travel. This refers to issues with the way 8 complaints received between 2016 and 2018 were handled.
While the process appears to have failed these 8 residents, it is important to acknowledge that this is equal to just 4 cases a year - and 0.17% of all cases which we process annually.
Also, none of the complaints were about not awarding the actual Blue Badge - but about the process of informing the claimant and the fact that insufficient information was provided.
The LGO's concerns were around key themes, namely:
* Insufficient detailed explanations in refusal letters to applicants which, although mitigated by the attachment of a copy of the assessment, this however contained jargon which simply compounded the issue;

* The paper stage assessment (or initial desk top assessment) did not take into account that applicants may not have understood that they may have provided insufficient information regarding their walking ability;

* The contractor does not clearly explain that the applicant is assessed against several categories to determine walking ability and that this needs to be explained in the decision letters;

* That the new hidden disabilities criteria introduced in October 2019 and advice about re-application be made clearer in correspondence, and that applications are assesses under both mobility and hidden disabilities criteria if appropriate.

What Harrow has done
Harrow Council has adopted all suggestions made by the LGO and has made improvements to the way the service is run to ensure the best possible outcome for our vulnerable residents. This is what we have done:
* Many of the recommendations raised by the LGO were already in place as the cases highlighted were historic and occurred between 2016 and 2018.

* The main recommendation of offering the 5 identified applicants a re-assessment was accepted and all applicants have been contacted and were given new clinical assessment dates in July/ August.

* Staff at Access Independent (Harrow's contractor) now use laptops at the assessment so there are no more handwritten assessments. Additionally, the contractor already cuts and pastes appropriate information from the assessment to use as explanations in the rejection letters rather than enclosing the handwritten paper assessments which were difficult to read and may have contained jargon.

* The contractor already assesses all applicants under both mobility and hidden disability criteria automatically so there will not be any further instances where an applicant would be rejected under the area they applied for regardless they may have qualified under another but different category.

* The contractor has provided refresher training to all assessors who work on the Harrow contract to ensure full compliance with the LGO's comments and recommendations to improve understanding by applicants regarding refusal letters received.

* The contractor has agreed to add fuller explanations to rejection letters so the applicants understand the reasons and have a further opportunity to appeal by perhaps providing additional and appropriate new evidence.

* The contractor has agreed to review all correspondence which is sent out to applicants to ensure no jargon is used or where it is used that a glossary of terms is included to support understanding by the reader.

* Harrow Council has added additional information on Harrow's website so applicants are aware that the more supporting evidence they provide the quicker the process - as well as giving them the best chance of a positive outcome because if assessors are not aware of issues they cannot consider them as part of the assessment.

* An action plan has been agreed together with implementation timescales, regarding both changes to the assessment process as well as improvements to decision letters.

Attachments

WAT1944656.pdf Download

London Borough of Harrow

Civic Centre , Station Road , Harrow , Middlesex , HA1 2XF

http://www.harrow.gov.uk 020 8863 5611

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