A watchdog has criticised Bexley Council for how it handles complaints weeks after opposition councillors blasted the authorities recent records.

The Local Government Ombudsman has published its annual review into how councils deal with complaints over their services.

Bexley Council has hit the headlines after a cabinet member had no knowledge of several Ombudsman cases dealing with complaints over changes to a transport policy for high needs kids.

The policy has been subject to criticism from the opposition who called for Cllr John Fuller to step down over the situation which left some kids being told they would not get extra help getting to school.

The Ombudsman did find fault in the council’s handling of those cases – however the Cabinet member has received an apology for being accused of misleading councillors earlier this year when he said the service was running smoothly.

Among those findings critical of the council was a refusal to help a 20-year-old cerebral palsy sufferer.

MORE Bexley Council SEN transport: Opposition calls for inquiry after Ombudsman upholds complaints

Now, just weeks later, the Local Government Watchdog wrote to the council: “In previous annual letters I have commended your Council for its complaint handling.

“Unfortunately, I must report that, this year, the Council’s complaint handling has been a cause for concern.

“My investigators reported several cases where the responses to our enquiries were late or did not provide us with all the information we had asked for. In particular, my investigators noted problems with complaints made about Special Educational Needs.

“Responding to complaints efficiently and comprehensively is vital. Delay to investigations only aggravates any injustice to complainants and I ask that you take the necessary steps to ensure timely and complete responses are provided to my office in future.”

Labour councillors previously called for an urgent investigation into how eight cases relating to high needs travel assistance ended up with the Ombudsman since the policy change.

Parts of the policy have also been reworded as a result of some of the complaints.

A spokesman for Bexley Council said that it is confident next year’s letter will reflect its changes.

A spokesman said: “The comments in the LGO’s annual review letter refer to eight SEN assisted travel decisions for the academic year 2017-18.

“In each of these cases, they asked us to carry out a number of actions that we wanted to do fairly and thoroughly. The LGO thought we were too slow to carry out some of these measures and chased us for confirmation.

“We have apologised directly to the families involved for any worry this may have caused, but any delays were to ensure that we followed the LGO’s suggestions and that the policy was followed fairly for the sake of our children and young people, and their families.

“We have taken the LGO’s comments on board. We have changed the wording of our SEN travel policy to make it clearer. The number of appeals for this year’s assisted travel is far below last year’s, which appears to show that the changes are already working.

“We have also put in place a more robust reporting and governance structure. We are confident that next year’s LGO annual review will reflect the changes we have made.”