When a council is thinking about changing services quite significantly, it should hold a consultation asking everyone who would be affected by the changes what they think. This gives service users a chance to have their say and to let the council know if the changes would have a negative or positive affect on their lives. It is important that councils find out people’s views before they change services, to make sure service users are central to any decisions being made.
A consultation usually consists of a document setting out what the council’sproposals are and a questionnaire asking people what they think of the proposals. The council should provide easy read versions of all documents for people with a learning disability. A good consultation should also include consultation meetings, where someone from the council meets with those interested in the proposals and listens to their views and answers their questions.
When writing a response to a consultation, first of all make sure you have all relevant information from the council and that you fully understand it. It is important that you know what the proposals mean and what the consequences of the changes will be. When completing the questionnaire, respond clearly to every point or question. We know people often don’t see the point in responding to consultations or find it hard, but consultations are a good opportunity to make your voice heard, and the more responses the council gets the more they should listen.
If the council is changing the way a person gets services but not holding a consultation, it could be neglecting its duties and could be open to challenge. In particular, if a service is closing altogether, charges are increasing or eligibility criteria are changing, the council has to hold a consultation. Even with smaller changes, the council should make the effort to engage with service users and a consultation is the most common way to do this. If the council is not holding a consultation but you want one and feel it is necessary, you should ask the council to hold one.
There are also rules around how councils should run consultations. They must consult in good time within the decision-making process, leaving enough time for the council to consider the responses before a final decision is reached. They must also give people enough information and time to respond properly. The minimum amount of time a consultation should run for is 12 weeks and it is council’s duty to inform and engage anyone who might be interested. Finally the council must give genuine consideration to all responses, not just pay ‘lip service’ to them.
If the council does not hold a consultation when they should or does not stick to any of the rules around holding a consultation, you can complain. For information on how to complain see the Making a complaint section.