The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs X complains that the Council refused to grant an adoption allowance for her adopted son, despite previously saying they would be entitled to it. She says this caused frustration, uncertainty, and stress. The Ombudsman finds the Council at fault for falsely raising Mrs X’s hopes. This caused injustice. The Ombudsman is satisfied that the Council has already remedied the injustice caused.
- The complainant, who I refer to here as Mrs X, complains that the Council refused to grant adoption allowance for her adopted son, despite previously saying they would be entitled to it.
- Mrs X says this caused frustration, uncertainty, and stress.
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)
- We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), 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 the information and documents provided by Mrs X and the Council. I spoke to Mrs X about her complaint. Mrs X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on an earlier draft of this statement. I considered all comments and further information received before I reached a final decision.
- I considered the relevant legislation, set out below
What I found
What should have happened
- The Adoption Support Services Regulations 2005 set out the circumstances in which an adoption allowance may be paid to adopters. Where an adopter applies for an adoption allowance the council should carry out a financial assessment. This is because such allowances are means tested. The payment of an adoption allowance is discretionary.
- Mrs X adopted her son. Mrs X talked to the Council about an adoption allowance. She then applied for an adoption allowance. In doing so, she completed an income and expenditure form which the Council used to do a financial assessment.
- The Council told Mrs X she did not qualify for an adoption allowance because her disposable income was greater than the allowance her son would qualify for.
- Mrs X complained to the Council. She complained that a social worker told her that although an adoption allowance is means tested, she would be entitled to a minimum amount regardless of income because her son is in the hard-to-place category.
- The Council replied to Mrs X’s complaint. It said her son could qualify for an adoption allowance because he is in the hard-to-place category. It said an adoption allowance is means tested so it has to consider income and outgoings. It said Mrs X did not qualify for an adoption allowance because she has more income than the adoption allowance that would be paid.
- The Council apologised that it had raised Mrs X’s hopes of qualifying for an adoption allowance. It said it should have stressed to her that an adoption allowance is means tested and not guaranteed. It said it would raise the issue with relevant staff to make sure expectations are not unnecessarily raised for other prospective adopters.
- Mrs X then complained to the Ombudsman.
- Mrs X complains that the first time she was told that an adoption allowance is means tested was when the Council told her its decision that she did not qualify. She also complains that the Council said she would be entitled to an adoption allowance, regardless of her income.
- Mrs X discussed an adoption allowance with a social worker. This social worker then sent Mrs X an email which referred to other adopters who did qualify for an adoption allowance. This email says that the other adopters were not high earners. I find that this email indicates that the Council will consider income when deciding adoption allowance applications.
- Mrs X completed an income and expenditure form when she applied for an adoption allowance. I find that this also indicates that Mrs X’s income would be considered as part of her application.
- The Council says its staff told Mrs X that adoption allowances are means tested. However, there is no evidence of what Mrs X was told. It is therefore unclear what the Council told Mrs X.
- I find that the Council failed to manage Mrs X’s expectations about what she may or may not be entitled to. This is fault. Adopters should receive clear information to make their decisions on. This includes clear information about adoption allowances and means testing.
- The Council recognises that it may have given Mrs X false hope. I find that the Council did give Mrs X false hope by failing to be clear and explicit about means testing for an adoption allowance. This is injustice. The Council apologised for this in its complaint response. I am satisfied that this apology remedies the injustice caused.
- The Council says it has taken on board the learning from this complaint. It says it will ensure all workers are clear with adopters that allowances are means tested. It also says it will record these conversations. This is positive. I am satisfied that the Council has taken proportionate action from this complaint to ensure it does not happen again.
- Mrs X complains that the Council refused to grant her an adoption allowance. Ultimately, I find the Council’s decision that Mrs X is not eligible for an adoption allowance is in line with the law. I do not find the Council at fault for not granting Mrs X an adoption allowance.
- I have completed my investigation. I uphold Mrs X’s complaint because I find the Council falsely raised her hopes. This caused injustice. I am satisfied that the Council has apologised for the injustice.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman