The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: We will not investigate Mrs X’s complaint about the Council’s adoption support for her family. The remedy offered by the Council is suitable for the injustice caused by fault in matters that are within our jurisdiction. We cannot investigate other matters, as they are ones it would have been reasonable for Mrs X to raise when she took court action.
- Mrs X said the Council was fault in the following ways:
- That the conduct and communications of a social worker, a manager and an independent reviewing officer (IRO) were below the standard expected;
- That it had handled her complaint poorly;
- That a social worker lacked appropriate knowledge and failed to support or signpost her family;
- That it failed to provide financial a support in line with regulations; and
- That it was failing to manage current sibling contact.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
- The courts have said that where someone has used their right of appeal, reference or review or remedy by way of proceedings in any court of law, the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction to investigate. This is the case even if the appeal did not or could not provide a complete remedy for all the injustice claimed. (R v The Commissioner for Local Administration ex parte PH (1999) EHCA Civ 916)
- 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 could add to any previous investigation by the Council, or
- it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome, or
- we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants.
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
- It is not a good use of public resources to investigate complaints about complaint procedures, if we are unable to deal with the substantive issue.
- 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 read the complaint correspondence sent by Mrs X and the Council. I gave Mrs X an opportunity to respond to a draft decision and considered her response.
What I found
- Mrs X and her husband intended to adopt two children, A and B, who were siblings. The children came to live with them and there were significant issues with one child that meant Child A needed to return to foster care. There were no issues with Child B. Mrs X and her husband still wished to adopt Child B, but the Council wanted the siblings to remain together. Mrs X and her husband took court action in late 2019. The court granted them an adoption order for Child B.
- Mrs X complained to the Council in early 2020.
Complaints a) and c): the actions of social workers and the IRO
- Mrs X took legal action in late 2019. The matters complained of are not separable from those that either were or could have been raised in court. That the Council has investigated them has no relevance to our jurisdiction.
Complaint b): complaint handling
- Where we do not investigate a matter, we do not consider a body’s handling of the complaint about it.
Complaint d): failure to provide financial support
- This matter arose at the time the court action ended. In my view, it arose too late for Mrs X to raise it in court. So, we can consider it. I note the Council accepted it had made an error and paid the sum it owed. This is sufficient to remedy the injustice caused by the error.
Complaint e): failing to manage sibling contact safely
- Again, this matter post-dates the court case and is separable from it. The Council confirmed it took too long to set up agreed safe contact between the siblings in 2020. Mrs X says a birth family member appeared in a virtual call. We would normally recommend a sum where a person has had unnecessary time and trouble, often a payment of £250. We do not recommend multiples of this sum, taking the view that time and trouble is usually a single injustice. We would normally recommend a payment where a person has been caused distress by an action that was fault. In my view, while the appearance of a birth family member in a virtual call would have caused some distress, this would not have been severe or prolonged. If we had investigated and felt a payment was required in this matter, it would be unlikely to be more than £250.
- I note the Council has offered a total payment of £550 for distress, and for the inconvenience caused by its poor complaint handling in the matters that are not within our jurisdiction above. This is £50 more than the total I would have recommended. I do not therefore find it appropriate to recommend a further payment.
Life story work
- In her response to the draft decision, Mrs X said we had not commented on a complaint about life story work. The complaint emails about this matter post-date the last complaint correspondence. Mrs X should complain to the Council before approaching us if she remains dissatisfied with the Council’s final response.
- We will not investigate this complaint. This is because investigation of complaints d) and e) is unlikely to lead to a different outcome.
- We cannot investigate complaints a) to c), as the matters complained of are not separable from those that were or could have been raised in court.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman