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What are local councils?

Some administration (eg day-to-day running) of local areas within the UK is carried out by local councils (ie local government bodies). These councils are generally made up of individuals elected in local elections, although council services are carried out by full departments of staff. 

The tiers of local government vary across the countries of the UK and by types of areas within countries. For example, in England, London and metropolitan boroughs have different council structures to more rural areas of the country. 

Types of councils that make up these council structures include: 

  • county councils - which provide certain services across a whole county

  • district, borough, and city councils - which serve smaller areas within a county

  • unitary authorities and London and metropolitan boroughs - which provide services that are often a combination of those provided by county councils and district, borough, or city councils in other areas

  • parish, community, and town councils - which can operate below district, borough, or city councils to serve very local issues

  • joint authorities - which provide certain services across multiple areas (eg emergency services in London) 

You can find your local council by entering your postcode into the government’s local council finder tool. If your area is served by multiple councils (eg a county council and a borough council), the tool will tell you which councils serve you and which services each council is responsible for.

What do councils do?

Councils are responsible for providing a range of key services to local residents. These include:

  • education

  • transport

  • planning

  • fire and public safety

  • social care

  • libraries

  • rubbish collection, recycling, and waste management

  • trading standards

  • housing

Each council’s website will set out the services that it provides.

How can you complain about local council services?

You may decide to complain about your local council because, for example:

  • a council service has not been properly delivered

  • there have been long delays in addressing an issue

  • council staff are rude or communication is poor

  • the council has failed to fulfil legal obligations

The complaints process

To start a formal complaint, the first step is to complain to the council service provider via the complaints department of the relevant council. These complaints can usually be started via the council’s website. 

If this initial complaint is not resolved, it may be possible to escalate the complaint to the council's complaints officer. This is also done via the complaints department of your local council.

If the complaints department and complaints officer fail to satisfactorily resolve a complaint, it can then be escalated to the relevant ombudsman service (eg the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman).

​​What are ombudsman services?

An ombudsman is essentially an independent official that’s responsible for investigating and handling complaints about certain organisations. The ombudsman services most relevant to complaints about local council services are: 

These ombudsman services act as the final stage for complaints about specified lists of matters. The exact matters and organisations depend on the ombudsman - each details which matters and organisations it deals with on its website. For example, most deal with complaints about councils, adult social care providers, and some other organisations that provide local public services. The SPSO also deals with complaints about the Scottish NHS and the Scottish government. 

Other ombudsman services may also cover complaints related to council services. For example, in England, the Housing Ombudsman considers complaints from tenants and leaseholders of social landlords and the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman deals with complaints about NHS England and UK government departments. 

An ombudsman can usually complaints related to:

  • the way a council service has been provided

  • how a council decision has been made

They generally only consider complaints that have already gone through the relevant local council's internal complaints procedure.

Alternative methods of resolving issues with councils

For certain types of complaints, means of resolution other than starting a complaint with the council may be more productive. 

For example, for housing-related complaints, it may be more effective to ask for a decision to be reviewed. For example, a decision on:

  • a housing benefit claim

  • a homeless application

  • housing waiting list applications and the housing register

When a decision is reviewed, a council has an opportunity to reconsider the decision and change it. For more information on housing reviews, read Shelter’s guidance.

What is the role of local mayors and MPs?

Some cities and areas of the UK have directly elected mayors who have certain responsibilities for their local areas. It may sometimes be possible to raise an issue directly with a local mayor or their office. They are often contactable via social media, email, or other online methods.

The job of local MPs (ie Members of Parliament) is to serve their constituents and to represent their constituents’ interests and concerns at a national level. However, MPS are often able to intervene on a wide variety of issues. You can use the government’s tool to find your local MP.

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