Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 09 May 2018
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: There was no fault in the way the Council investigated Mr X’s complaints about its actions towards him as a care leaver. There is some evidence of fault which caused him injustice in the upheld complaint that he was homeless for a very short time. The Council offers a small payment in acknowledgement of the distress caused.
- The complainant (whom I shall call Mr X) complains about the Council’s investigation of his multiple complaints about his treatment as a care leaver. He says the Council should pay him significant compensation for the way it has treated him.
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 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
- I considered the information provided by the Council and by Mr X. I made some enquiries of the Council. Both the Council and Mr X had the opportunity to comment on an earlier draft of this statement before I reached a final decision.
What I found
- Because of Mr X’s age at the start of the events here, the Council conducted the investigation of his complaint under the Children Act 1989 procedures. This is a three-stage procedure set out for councils to follow when looking at complaints about children’s social care services. At stage 2 of this procedure, the Council appoints an Independent Investigator and an Independent Person (who is responsible for overseeing the investigation). If a complainant is unhappy with the outcome of the stage 2 investigation, they can ask for a stage 3 review. If a council has investigated something under this procedure, the Ombudsman would not normally re-investigate it unless he considers that investigation was flawed. However, he may look at whether a council properly considered the findings and recommendations of the independent investigation.
- Mr X was an asylum seeker who has now been granted asylum.
- In 2016 and 2017, Mr X made a number of complaints about the Council’s contact with him, its duty towards him as a homeless care leaver, its failure to assist him in his further education, the accuracy of its documents about him and the way in which it had shared risk assessments about him with other bodies, in particular with Housing.
- The Independent Investigator (II) reported in November 2017.
- The II upheld or partially upheld six of the 23 complaints Mr X made.
- The II upheld a complaint that Mr X had become homeless for three days in 2016 when his landlord evicted him and then took him back. The II upheld the complaint that the Council had failed in its duty towards Mr X as a care leaver at that time, although there was some doubt about how much Mr X had told the Council, whether he was able to be contacted during that time, and where he had stayed.
- The II upheld a complaint that it was insensitive of the Council to put Mr X in a position where in order to complete his Pathway Plan, he had to meet with an adviser who had made allegations about Mr X’s behaviour towards her. The II said it was not only insensitive but potentially dangerous for the adviser and therefore an inappropriate action.
- The II partially upheld a complaint about the inclusion in Mr X’s risk assessment of the perceived threat he had made about a manager in the Council. The complaint was only partially upheld because although it was right to include the information, it had been incorrectly placed in the ‘criminal’ justice’ section of the risk assessment. There was no evidence that it had negatively affected Mr X’s housing application as he thought.
- The II also upheld a complaint that an officer had written two letters saying that as a foreign person Mr X was not eligible for NHS or education services and shared them with Mr X’s GP. The II upheld the complaint, even though the contents of the letter were true at the time of writing, because Mr X’s asylum situation then changed. There was no evidence that the Council had shared the letters with Mr X’s GP however.
- The II partially upheld a complaint that the Council had shared a risk assessment with other agencies (notably housing). The complaint was only upheld because the Council had not explained to Mr X beforehand (as the Housing Protocol required) that the information would be shared, but the II clarified that the Housing body would not have accepted an application from Mr X without the risk assessment anyway.
- Finally, the II upheld a complaint that there was a delay in completing the stage two investigation, principally because the investigation had to restart (through no attributable fault) with a different Independent Investigator.
- The II recommended that social workers should ensure that issues of information sharing with other agencies (particularly Housing) were clearly explained to a young person with whom they were completing a risk assessment. He also recommended that the Aftercare Team should satisfy themselves that accommodation provided to young people continued to be appropriate and able to meet the young person’s needs, in view of the problem between Mr X and his landlord which had been overlooked.
- The Council issued adjudication letter in December 2017 and apologised to Mr X for the upheld complaints.
- Mr X asked the Council to arrange a Stage Three hearing. He said he wanted £10,000 compensation for the Council’s actions towards him.
- The Council did not arrange a Stage Three hearing. It explained to Mr X that none of the desired outcomes he had previously expressed had included compensation. It said it could not see that he had suffered financial loss as a result of the upheld complaints.
- At the same time, the Council wrote to Mr X asking him to reduce his contact with officers. It said he had made multiple calls and it would have to restrict his contact if he continued to do so: it pointed out that he was not currently a service user of the Council and therefore his contact should be minimal.
- Mr X complained to the Ombudsman. He also complained that the Council restricted his access to its services and made it difficult for him to speak to anyone.
- I have not detailed above the remainder of Mr X’s complaints, which were not upheld. There is no evidence that the Council failed to investigate those complaints properly and so it is not for the Ombudsman to reinvestigate.
- The Council apologised for the complaints which were upheld and explained to Mr X the action it intended to take in respect of the II’s recommendations in his report.
- The Council should have recognised sooner that there was potential for Mr X’s accommodation to fail.
- I have not seen any evidence of fault in the way the Council asked Mr X to limit his contact with officers, which was both exceptional and time-consuming for officers who were not at that time providing a service to Mr X.
- The Council agrees to offer Mr X a payment of £50 (within one month of my final decision) in line with the Ombudsman’s guidance on remedies, for the short period of time when he was homeless.
- Fault on the part of the Council caused injustice to Mr X in one aspect of his complaint only.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman