London Borough of Hounslow (18 003 167)

Category : Adult care services > Safeguarding

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 19 Feb 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Council faults in the way it investigated a safeguarding matter caused Mrs X significant personal injustice. The Ombudsman recommends a remedy for the injustice caused, and to improve the Council’s processes.

The complaint

  1. Mrs X complains the Council:
      1. Conducted a safeguarding investigation into her actions without telling her the allegations made against her, or giving her the opportunity to answer those allegations and provide evidence to the investigation;
      2. Delayed in responding to her complaints, and her requests for information about the investigation.
  2. Mrs X says the Council’s actions have the potential to ruin her reputation, and have caused her a lot of stress and avoidable time and trouble in pursuing the Council’s delayed or incomplete responses.
  3. Mrs X wants the Council to:
    • Confirm in writing that the safeguarding investigation outcome has been overturned; and
    • Invite her comments in response to the safeguarding allegations, so they can be placed on the safeguarding record.

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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’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
  2. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. As part of the investigation, I have:
    • considered the complaint and the documents provided by Mrs X;
    • made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents it provided;
    • discussed the complaint with Mrs X.

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What I found

  1. Mr A, a relative of Mrs X’s by marriage, has conditions which mean he cannot deal with his own financial affairs. The Council had been managing Mr A’s finances for about 10 years and wished to withdraw from that role. Mrs X declined to take over that role in March 2017. Mrs X and the Council had a dispute in 2017 about how the mental capacity assessment process should be done. The assessment was delayed.
  2. Mrs X supported Mr A during some conveyancing matters. Mr A was selling part of his garden, then the house, and buying his new home. This involved Mrs X paying various parties on Mr A’s behalf, from his accounts. Mrs X received some repayment of expenses she incurred when supporting Mr A.
  3. On 31 May 2017, officers received a safeguarding alert about Mrs X seeking payments from Mr A. They raised a safeguarding case. The Council held a planning meeting in July and agreed to apply to the Court of Protection for Deputyship to manage Mr A’s finances. The Council says a further outcome of the meeting was to advise Mrs X not to contact Mr A to request money from him. It is not clear whether the Council did this. Mrs X says she did not receive any contact from the Council on the matter.
  4. The Council told Mrs X there had been a safeguarding investigation into Mr A’s finances on 1 September, over three months after it had started its investigation. Officers told her not to contact Mr A about his finances. Mrs X raised her concerns about the matter and the Council asked her to put them in writing.
  5. The ‘Safeguarding Outcomes’ meeting on 4 September decided that, ‘on the balance of probabilities’, the allegation against Mrs X was ‘partially substantiated’. The Council wrote to Mrs X on 8 September, advising her not to ask Mr A for payments. The letter stated the investigation was now closed.
  6. The Council:
    • did not ask Mrs X to respond to the safeguarding case;
    • did not tell Mrs X the specific allegations against her which had triggered the safeguarding action;
    • closed the case before giving Mrs X the opportunity to have her say, or know what the allegations were.
  7. I find the Council’s failure to take these actions was fault. This caused Mrs X significant personal injustice. She was not given the opportunity to provide her comments and evidence to the investigating officers, to defend herself against the safeguarding allegations. I recommend a remedy for this injustice below.

Safeguarding investigation review

  1. Mrs X wrote to the Council in November and December asking what allegations had been made about her, what meetings had taken place, and about the outcomes of any meetings held. The Council replied on 13 December saying it had reviewed the safeguarding investigation and decided to repeat the enquiry. Mrs X’s letter had raised issues officers needed to address. The Council told Mrs X the investigating safeguarding officers would contact her for her views if they reported back to the head of their department.
  2. Mrs X pursued replies from the Council to her requests for information. She considered the Council was in breach of the Data Protection Act for not replying in time. The Council wrote to Mrs X on 23 January 2018, apologising for the delay in responding to her November 2017 letter. It said:
    • the Council’s enquiry looked into whether financial transactions had caused Mr A distress or had an impact on his mental health;
    • there had been a ‘strategy meeting’ and an ‘outcomes meeting’ as part of the matter;
    • the outcome of the final meeting was that the safeguarding concerns raised had been ‘partially substantiated’ in regard to Mr X suffering distress which had an impact on his mental health.
  3. The Council accepts it was fault for the panel to decide the safeguarding allegations had been ‘partially substantiated’. The Council says the panel should have considered whether, on the balance of probabilities, Mr A had suffered harm.
  4. On 24 January, the Council sent a further letter to Ms X which said:
    • officers were reconsidering the original grounds for the safeguarding enquiry into Mr A;
    • once they have considered the evidence, they would decide whether to continue with a Safeguarding enquiry under Section 42;
    • if the second enquiry in any way invalidates the findings of the first enquiry, the Council said it would formally recognise this and amend the results in writing.
  5. Mrs X has complained the Council did not invite her to be involved in the second investigation. But the evidence shows there was no second investigation. So I do not find there was fault by the Council on this issue.
  6. But I have not seen evidence the Council told Mrs X of its decision not to do a second investigation. That was fault. The Council should have told Mrs X about this as soon as it made that decision. This fault was compounded by the Council’s reply to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which stated a second safeguarding investigation was ongoing. These faults in communication have caused uncertainty to Mrs X about the Council’s actions, and whether she would get the opportunity to have her say on the allegations.
  7. Officers have recognised the first investigation decision was flawed, but because they have not done a second investigation, they have not confirmed whether the first decision’s status is withdrawn or remains valid. It is fault the Council has not made this clear, and not confirmed the position for Mrs X.
  8. The Council’s communication of the status of the safeguarding investigation outcome has been, and remains, unclear. This has left Mrs X with understandable concern and uncertainty about the status of the first enquiry’s findings. I recommend a remedy for the injustices caused to Mrs X below.
  9. I note Mrs X has concerns about the impact of the Council’s investigation on her life in future. But I have not seen evidence the Council’s faults here have had an impact on Mrs X’s employment or other parts of her life. I recognise Mrs X’s concerns, but the Ombudsman cannot provide remedies for injustices which have not happened.

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Agreed action

  1. I recommended the Council:
      1. write and apologise to Mrs X for the injustice caused by its faults in the safeguarding investigation;
      2. pay £200 to Mrs X to acknowledge the avoidable trouble, distress, inconvenience and uncertainty caused to her by its faults;
      3. invite Mrs X to place on their file all the comments and evidence in response to the safeguarding matter which she wants to submit.
  2. The Council should take these actions, and provide evidence of them to the Ombudsman, within one month of the date of this decision statement.
  3. I also recommended the Council write to Mrs X to:
      1. confirm the outcome of the first safeguarding investigation, which officers have accepted was flawed, has been voided;
      1. confirm there will be no second safeguarding investigation into the same matters.
  4. Alternatively, if the Council intends to do a second safeguarding investigation, instead of implementing recommendations d) and e), it should tell Mrs X and the Ombudsman of this intention within one month. It should then continue with that investigation in the normal way.
  5. I further recommended the Council review its safeguarding investigation process, to seek to avoid the repeat of similar faults as identified here. This should include training for its safeguarding investigation panel members involved in the flawed decision here. The Council should complete this review and advise the Ombudsman of the outcome and all actions taken as a result within three months of the date of my final decision.
  6. The Council has agreed to take the recommended actions.

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Final decision

  1. There has been Council fault causing significant personal injustice to Mrs X as set out in paragraphs 12, 13, 16, and 19 to 21. I consider the complaint resolved by the Council’s agreement with the recommended actions. I have completed my investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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