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Suffolk County Council (20 001 304)

Category : Adult care services > Other

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 28 Sep 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: On behalf of Ms A, Mr X complains about the Council’s response to a complaint made about the behaviour of a social worker. The Ombudsman will not investigate the complaint because there are insufficient grounds to warrant an investigation.

The complaint

  1. Mr X, on behalf of the complainant Ms A, says colleagues at the care home owned and run by Ms A were disgusted by the behaviour of a Council social worker who visited the home. He says the social worker was excessively rude and the Council’s response to the complaint made about the behaviour was delayed and inadequate. In addition to the meeting already offered by the Council, Mr X wants a formal apology, action taken so the social worker improves performance and avoids disciplinary action and the reopening of its investigation into the matter.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe:
  • it is unlikely we would find fault, or
  • the fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained, or
  • the injustice is not significant enough to justify our involvement, or
  • it is unlikely we could add to any previous investigation by the Council, or
  • it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome, or
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  1. We cannot investigate a complaint if it is about a personnel issue. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5/5a, paragraph 4, as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. In considering the complaint I reviewed the information provided by Mr X and the Council. I gave Mr X the opportunity to comment on my draft decision and considered what he said.

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What I found

  1. In February 2020, a social worker employed by the Council attended the care home owned and run by Ms A to follow up on a matter concerning one of the residents.
  2. Mr X, present at the visit in his role as external consultant/advisor to Ms A, says the behaviour exhibited by the social worker was excessive and extraordinarily rude. Mr X wrote to the Council to complain about this behaviour.
  3. The manager who responded to the complaint three months later apologised for the delay in replying, explaining he had been waiting for the completion of a section 42 Safeguarding Enquiry and that the pandemic had delayed matters further. He said he had spoken to the social worker concerned, and the colleague who had also been in attendance, and that from this it was apparent there was a difference of opinion relating to the events of the visit. The manager said as it was one person’s word against another, it would be difficult to reach a conclusion and that therefore he would be taking no further action. He did, however, offer a face to face meeting if Mr X wanted to discuss the matter in more detail.
  4. Unhappy with this response and the lack of investigation, Mr X wrote back to the Council, setting out the reasons for his dissatisfaction but accepting the offer of a meeting.
  5. In responding to my query, the Council has confirmed Mr X will be contacted shortly to arrange the meeting at which the manager will be able to provide further detail as to why no further action was taken.

Assessment

  1. The Council’s offer of a meeting with Mr X appears to be a reasonable way of further addressing his concerns. Given we do not generally investigate complaints to obtain an apology and that by law we cannot involve ourselves in personnel issues, I do not consider there are sufficient grounds to warrant a formal investigation by the Ombudsman.
  2. In responding to my draft decision, Mr X outlined the injustice caused to him, Ms A, other care home staff and residents as a result of the social worker’s behaviour and the Council’s response to the complaint. He says the Council failed to interview three care home representatives present at the visit who would support his complaint. However, while the representatives may do this, and I have noted his comments about the injustice caused, we do not investigate every complaint we receive. We are a publicly funded body and have an obligation to use the funds allocated to us in an effective, efficient and economic manner and in this case I do not consider there are sufficient grounds to warrant an investigation.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint as there are insufficient grounds to warrant an investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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