AN independent watchdog has given the thumbs up to the way North Devon Council handles its complaints. The Local Government Ombudsman deals with complaints from customers who have already been through the council's own complaints system but who are still

AN independent watchdog has given the thumbs up to the way North Devon Council handles its complaints.The Local Government Ombudsman deals with complaints from customers who have already been through the council's own complaints system but who are still unhappy with the outcome.Although the LGO received 32 complaints about the council this year, it did not have to step in on any of them. In most cases, the complaint was found to be unjustified, or was beyond the jurisdiction of the LGO.A handful of the complaints were found to be "premature", which means the person complaining went straight to the ombudsman instead of going through the council's own complaints system first. The ombudsman praised NDC for this low number of premature complaints, saying it showed the council's complaints procedure was "readily accessible to residents".One area for improvement is the time it takes to respond to the ombudsman. The council took 29 days on average to reply to the ombudsman's enquiries when it is asked to reply within 28.Lead member for good and improving services, Cllr Colin Wright, said: "Any successful organisation must be open to receiving complaints from its customers in order to improve the services it provides. "I'm happy that the Local Government Ombudsman feels we have a good system in place and that they are satisfied that local people are fully aware of how to make a complaint if they need to."Customers can make a complaint about a council service in a number of ways. They can visit the council's website www.northdevon.gov.uk; call (01271) 388444; email customerservices@northdevon.gov.uk; or visit NDC offices at the Civic Centre, Barnstaple, the Ilfracombe Centre, 44 High Street, Ilfracombe or the NDC South Molton Community Office in the George Arcade.All complainants must go through the council's own complaints system before they can contact the Local Government Ombudsman. For more information on the LGO, log on to www.lgo.org.uk