The NSW councils with the most complaints

The Ombudsman said COVID-19 lockdowns have caused a backlog in the council’s inquiries: “There are ongoing effects of backlogs, including declining customer service standards, delays in responding to complainants and delays in responding to our preliminary inquiries.”

Anne Wagstaff complained to the Ombudsman about Georges River Council’s refusal to throw the book at a mountain bike rider in Oatley Park.

Complaints have been filed with Georges River Council for allegedly unlawful mountain biking activities.

Complaints have been filed with Georges River Council for allegedly unlawful mountain biking activities.Credit:AP

Wagstaff said the council had been provided with video evidence of dangerous and potentially unlawful mountain biking activity in the park: “However, it appears that the council is taking no action against this mountain bike rider.”

She was told by an Ombudsman investigator that they often receive complaints about councils failing to take enforcement action, but “a failure to act on an alleged breach of the law is not usually enough for us to act on it”.

Wagstaff, a former Hurstville councilwoman, said she wondered if it was “worth my time” to file a complaint given the ombudsman’s response.

A spokeswoman for Georges River Council said she takes the Ombudsman’s feedback seriously, but said the council had received more awards than complaints in the last fiscal year.

Many community complaints have to do with waste accumulation.

Many community complaints have to do with waste accumulation.Credit:Wollongong City Council

The Office of Local Government also receives complaints about councils showing Central Coast (256), Wingecarribee (103) and Georges River (56) were the most defamed in 2020-21.

A spokesman for the Inner West Council said the council payers’ complaints reflected the challenges of living near the city, such as:

“We also have [a] very engaged local community who know their rights and are not afraid to voice their concerns,” he said.


He also pointed out that the number of complaints against the Inner West Council was 40 percent lower than in 2020-21.

Central Coast Council was the council with the most complaints for the second year running, with 158 complaints in 2021-22 – compared to 164 the previous year.

A council spokeswoman said the COVID restrictions have exacerbated grievances because councils are unable to perform in-person functions while major flooding damaged roads and infrastructure.

She also said there was significant anger at the council after council members were suspended in 2020 and replaced by an administrator who hiked rates and cut staff to deal with a financial crisis.

Peninsula Residents Association vice-chairman Julian Bowker said he expected there to be more complaints about the Central Coast Council.


Bowker said residents have been critical of rate hikes, non-compliance with council policy and poor planning decisions: “The lack of public representation and the delay in council elections until September 2024 are also major issues.”

By contrast, Greater Manly Residents Forum spokesman Nick Reid said he was surprised that Northern Beaches Council was facing so many complaints.

A spokeswoman for NSW local government said the state’s 128 councils had recorded less than half of the state government’s complaints despite serving the same population.

She also said the number of complaints about councils lodged with the Ombudsman had declined over the past five years.

“The economic impact of the pandemic, along with a series of floods, bushfires and other natural disasters, has placed all three branches of government under significant financial strain,” she said.


NSW councils have also had to contend with cost shifting of around $1 billion a year, restrictions on increasing council rates and grants that they felt were no longer fit for purpose.

“Councils are being pressured from both sides and yet they’ve somehow done more and more with less and less,” she said.

The Morning Edition Newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here. The NSW councils with the most complaints

Callan Tansill

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