Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 23 Mar 2020
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr Z’s complaint about the lack of support from the Council following his adoption of his son. This is because the complaint is late and there is not enough evidence of fault by the Council causing Mr Z injustice, so investigation is not warranted.
- Mr Z says before he adopted his son B in September 2014, he was fostering him, and he received an allowance for this. He says the Council suddenly stopped providing financial support for B without notice. Mr Z has also complained the Council delayed investigating his complaint.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
- 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. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A (6), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- As part of my assessment
- I have considered the complaint by Mr Z and the complaint correspondence between Mr Z and the Council;
- I have also considered the findings and recommendations of the stage two and stage three investigations;
- I have issued a draft decision inviting Mr Z to reply.
What I found
- In September 2017 the Council responded to Mr Z’s stage one complaint. In the response it said the assessment carried out in May 2017 had concluded the need for a full adoption allowance was not met. However, if circumstances changed then it would reassess.
- In July 2018 Mr Z directed a lawyer to start a stage two complaint. In this complaint Mr Z asked the Council to explain why it had withdrawn financial support after two years without notice.
- This stage two investigation found Mr Z had signed a document in 2013 which stated he was entitled to financial assistance for two years, or less if he returned to employment or fostering. The report went on to say the Council had done a review in 2016 which Mr Z knew about. In this review the Council decided the payments would stop in January 2017.
- In August 2019 a stage three Independent Review panel hearing took place
- This hearing concluded there were reviews and letters signed by Mr Z which evidenced that financial support was not automatic, and that the Council gave Mr Z notice of when the payments would stop.
- Mr Z’s complaint is late. He knew about this issue in 2017 but has only brought it to the Ombudsman in 2020. I do not consider there are any good reasons to exercise discretion because it is unlikely we will find fault.
- The law provides guidance on financial support. It says a former foster parent who was receiving financial support from the local authority for fostering the child may continue receiving this help after the child has been adopted. However, this ceases to be payable after two years unless the Council thinks it is necessary to continue the payments. (Adoption Support Services Regulations 2005 Part 3)
- This means financial assistance after two years is discretionary. Mr Z is not automatically entitled to the continued support. The Council assessed B in 2016 and 2017 and concluded Mr Z was not entitled to continued financial support.
- The findings from the statutory complaints procedure have also made it clear Mr Z was aware in 2013 the payments would stop after two years. Mr Z was also aware in 2016 his payments were due to stop in January 2017.
- The Council has accepted there were some delays in dealing with the complaint and that this may have led to Mr Z submitting the complaint late.
- However, we will not investigate this delay. This is because it is not a good use of public resources to investigate complaints about complaints procedures, if we are unable to deal with the substantive issue.
- The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because the complaint is late and there is no reason Mr Z could not have complained sooner, nor enough evidence of fault to warrant an investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman