The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Council is at fault for delaying considering a complaint at stage three of the children’s statutory complaints procedure. The Council has agreed to start its stage three investigation without delay and will offer to make a payment to the complainant to remedy the time and trouble its delay has caused him.
- The complainant, who I will call Mr C, complains about the Councill’s decision to stop paying him an adoption allowance. Mr C has asked the Council to progress his complaint at stage three of the Children Act statutory complaints procedure but has not received a response.
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)
- Under our information sharing agreement, we will share the final decision with the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted).
How I considered this complaint
- I considered information provided by the complainant and the Council.
- I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.
- The complainant now has an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I will consider their comments before making a final decision.
The statutory complains procedure
- The law sets out a three-stage procedure for councils to follow when looking at complaints about children’s social care services. The accompanying statutory guidance, Getting the Best from Complaints, explains councils’ responsibilities in more detail.
- The first stage of the procedure is local resolution. Councils have up to 20 working days to respond.
- If a complainant is not happy with a council’s stage one response, they can ask that it is considered at stage two. At this stage of the procedure, councils appoint an investigator and an independent person who is responsible for overseeing the investigation. Councils have up to 13 weeks to complete stage two of the process from the date of request.
- If a complainant is unhappy with the outcome of the stage two investigation, they can ask for a stage three review by an independent panel. The Council must hold the panel within 30 days of the date of request, and then issue a final response within 20 days of the panel hearing.
- Mr C complained to the Council about its decision to stop paying him an adoption allowance. In April 2021, the Council issued its response at stage two of the statutory complaints procedure.
- In early May, Mr C asked for the Council to progress his complaint to stage three. The Council have said that due to a lack of availability of panel members and because of issues arising from COVID-19 restrictions there has been a delay in arranging the panel hearing.
- The Council should have held a stage three panel to review Mr C’s complaint within 30 days of receiving his request in early May and issued a final response 20 days after the panel hearing. It still has not done so and this is fault.
- Mr C has not received answers to the questions he raised about the Council’s decisions and has been denied the opportunity for oversight at stage three of the statutory complaints procedure. He has also been caused frustration by the delay.
- The Council has now arranged for a stage three panel to be arranged in late September and notified Mr C of the arrangements.
- Within one month of the date of my decision the Council has agreed to make a payment to Mr C of £100 to remedy the time and trouble he has gone to in pursuing his complaint, and to reflect the Council’s delay in dealing with it.
- I uphold this complaint with a finding of fault causing an injustice.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman