COMPLAINTS about Dorset Council services have continued to increase – by more than 70 per cent a year.

But the authority is also reporting a rise in compliments, up by over 110per cent.

Councillors have been told that it was originally thought the rise in complaints might have been sparked by Covid with more residents finding they had extra time on their hands while at the same time feeling aggrieved by lockdown and other restrictions.

Senior assurance officer Antony Bygrave said that with complaints continuing at the same high level over more than two years the initial theory might not be correct.

He told councillors that, at times, staff had struggled to keep up with the volume which often centred on visible activities, such as planning and problems with neighbours, rather than the work of social services which tended to be mostly invisible to the general public.

Mr Bygrave told the council’s place and resources scrutiny committee that despite the increase there had been only a handful of complaints which went on to the Local Government Ombudsman and of those, only six, had been found to be proven.

In response to questions from councillors he admitted that the council did have a handful of residents who were persistent complainers, some of which had been limited to only being allowed contact with one person – although at least one had found ways around that and continued to contact multiple officers and councillors, according to Cllr David Shortell.

Mr Bygrave said that although the council did have procedures in place to protect staff and councillors from the worst excesses of public complaints they were very rarely used.

“Even if people raise matters in a combative or aggressive way we do have to consider if they have a point,” he said.

Sherborne councillor Jon Andrews said his experience was that people had become more sensitive in the past couple of years and were now more likely to pick up the phone, or email, to complain.

He said that many of the issues did not reach the council’s complaints team because they were dealt with by local councillors as the first contact point.

“Often you are able to give an answer which satisfies people…there’s a lot of proactive work by councillors stopping official complaints coming through,” he said.

Council figures show 1,268 complaints in 2020-21, a 76% increase year on year.

Of those only 644 have been considered through the formal process with 624 resolved informally.

Of the 19 cases investigated by the Local Government Ombudsman during the year only 6 cases resulted in a finding of fault by the council. Three of the cases related to Special Education Need delays and resulted in payments of £6,750.

Just under 40per cent of the total cases exceeded the 20 working day deadline, up by 16% on the previous year.

Only 8 per cent on complaints were considered fully justified, 11% part justified.

Compliments during the period rose to 633 – up by 112%.

Of the 54 code of conduct complaints about councillors (which includes town and parish councillors) – eight were considered to merit an investigation and three were upheld.