Whitehall's response to complaints attacked

Whitehall was on the receiving end of yet more embarrassing criticism from a cross-party Commons committee yesterday.

The committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration - the Ombudsman - accused civil servants of failing to respond properly to genuine grievances. 'In an age of (Citizen's) Charter documents and emphasis on the value of complaints, we consider that a culture of grudging and delayed redress is inappropriate,' the report said.

Departments, said the Tory-dominated committee, 'should seek out those affected by serious maladministration, not wait to be contacted.' They should be prepared to pay large sums of money, if necessary.

Three cases were singled out.

The Department of Social Security was attacked by William Reid, the Ombudsman, for serious delays in introducing the new disability living allowance.

The Welsh Office was criticised for failing to give local authorities sufficient notice of the date of changes to housing grant rates. the committee accused the Welsh Office of quibbling over the term 'maladministration'.

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency improperly revoked the licences of 231 heavy goods vehicle drivers, and made no attempt to publicise the consequences or identify those affected. The committee said: 'We are astonished at such a lack of concern for the well-being of members of the public, some of whom had lost their livelihood through no fault of their own.'

In future, the committee said, 'we will look with particular disfavour on departments and agencies which repeat failures previously exposed'.

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