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The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), the body with responsibility for the police complaints system, has improved its performance against targets, in spite of a significant increase in its workload. In a report out today the National Audit Office finds, however, that the IPCC needs to do more to get feedback from complainants on how their complaints have been handled and to improve its quality control procedures.

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In 2007-08 the IPCC opened 100 new independent investigations (investigating the most serious complaints made against the police) compared to 31 in 2004-05. The increase has arisen in part because of the impact of Human Rights case law, which has expanded the range of investigations, and in part because the IPCC has improved public access to the police complaints system.

Over the same period, funding for the IPCC increased by almost £8 million to £32.2 million. Workload predictions suggest, however, that it will have more work to do. The IPCC has a Business Change programme designed to increase productivity and flexibility in its use of staff and other resources.

Performance against key targets varies significantly between the four IPCC regions. The North region is currently the only region to meet the target of processing 80 per cent of appeals within 25 working days. The London and South East region dealt with only 27 per cent of appeals within the target time in 2007-08. The IPCC recognises that its resource model did not match demand levels and it has subsequently taken steps to allocate work more evenly across regions.

The IPCC has not sought feedback from complainants, police officers or appellants on how it has handled their case, although it plans to conduct surveys of this nature in 2008-09. The IPCC’s quality control procedures are underdeveloped and inconsistently applied. The NAO found that many cases were not subject to an internal review and there was no external scrutiny of the IPCC’s investigative work. Reforming its quality control procedures is one of the IPCC’s objectives for 2008-09.

In over 60 per cent of cases reviewed, we found recommendations for police bodies to change or strengthen their practices. The IPCC does not routinely monitor implementation of recommendations, which it does not see as its role. The IPCC does have a remit, however, to identify and disseminate the wider lessons arising from its work. Since 2007, it has issued Learning the Lessons bulletins that summarise recommendations for improving police practice. These bulletins have been widely welcomed by the police and others. The IPCC has also embarked on a stock-take of the police complaints system and a Business Change Programme to improve its efficiency and effectiveness further.

"The IPCC has an important, high profile and sensitive role. It has made significant improvements in performance in the four years it has been in operation. But it faces challenges in managing its increasing workload and in ensuring the quality of its work. It needs to increase its productivity further, improve its quality assurance procedures for investigations, and obtain regular feedback from complainants, police officers and appellants about how their cases have been handled."

Tim Burr, head of the National Audit Office


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