The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Council was at fault for delaying the progression of Mr C’s complaint to stage 2 of the statutory complaint’s procedure. However, it has apologised and is now progressing the complaint.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr C, complains about the Council’s decision to stop paying his adoption allowance. Mr C says he has suffered financially because of the decision.
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)
- Under the information sharing agreement between the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), we will share this decision with Ofsted.
How I considered this complaint
- I considered information Mr C provided and considered information provided by the Council.
- I sent a draft version of this decision to both parties and invited their comments.
What I found
- The law sets out a three-stage procedure 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.
- A stage 2 investigation must be completed within 25 days, which can be extended to a maximum of 65 working days.
- Mr C and his wife adopted two children and were therefore in receipt of an adoption allowance.
- In March 2019, the Council became aware that another Local Authority were providing a substantial financial package of support for one of Mr C’s children. The Council therefore made the decision to end the adoption allowance.
- The Council carried out a financial assessment of the family in May 2019 but made the decision that the adoption allowance should not be reinstated.
- Mr C appealed the decision to the Council. However, this was unsuccessful.
- Correspondence between Mr C and the Council continued, and on 7 July Mr C asked for the matter to be considered under the complaint’s procedures.
- The Council concluded that it should be treated as a complaint under stage 2 of the statutory complaint’s procedure as advised Mr C of this on 7 August.
- The Council has acknowledged that there was a delay in arranging resources to carry out a stage 2 investigation but says this was due to the COVID-19 virus meaning it did not have the capacity to proceed.
- These reasons were explained to Mr C on 25 September and it apologised to Mr C for the delays. It explained that the Council has now put resources in place to consider the complaint through stage 2 of the statutory complaint’s procedure.
- Whilst I acknowledge that the COVID-19 virus has placed a strain on Council resources, there were no changes to the law or guidance regarding the statutory complaint’s procedure. The Council’s duties therefore remained.
- The Council had 25 days to complete its investigation from when it decided it should be considered under stage 2 on 7 August. But it did not provide an update until 35 days after this date. This is fault.
- I do not consider that Mr C has suffered a significant injustice at this stage. This is because the Council has apologised for this fault and has now put resources in place to progress the complaint.
- If, following the Council’s investigation, Mr C is not satisfied with the outcome, he may complain to the Ombudsman again and we will consider whether it is necessary to investigate his complaint.
- I have concluded my investigation on the basis that there was fault but this has not caused a significant injustice.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman