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.
- Mrs X complains the Council:
- 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;
- Delayed in responding to her complaints, and her requests for information about the investigation.
- 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.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- 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.
What I found
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Safeguarding investigation review
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- I recommended the Council:
- write and apologise to Mrs X for the injustice caused by its faults in the safeguarding investigation;
- pay £200 to Mrs X to acknowledge the avoidable trouble, distress, inconvenience and uncertainty caused to her by its faults;
- invite Mrs X to place on their file all the comments and evidence in response to the safeguarding matter which she wants to submit.
- confirm the outcome of the first safeguarding investigation, which officers have accepted was flawed, has been voided;
- confirm there will be no second safeguarding investigation into the same matters.
- 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.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman