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Cumbria County Council (21 009 640)

Category : Children's care services > Adoption

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 02 Dec 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council has unreasonably delayed considering Mr B’s complaint at Stage 2 of the statutory procedure for children’s services complaints. It has agreed to initiate Stage 2 and to offer to make a payment to Mr B to reflect the delay and the uncertainty this has caused.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I will refer to as Mr B, complains about the Council’s actions in respect of his daughter’s care. The Council has accepted the complaint at Stage 2 of the statutory procedure for children’s services complaints but has delayed its investigation.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. 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)
  3. Under our information sharing agreement, we will share the final decision with the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted).

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered information provided by the complainant and the Council.
  2. I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.
  3. The complainant has had the opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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My assessment

The statutory complaints procedure

  1. 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.
  2. The first stage of the procedure is local resolution. Councils have up to 20 working days to respond.
  3. If a complainant is not happy with a council’s Stage 1 response, they can ask that it is considered at Stage 2. 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 2 of the process.
  4. If a complainant is unhappy with the outcome of the Stage 2 investigation, they can ask for a Stage 3 review by an independent panel. The Council must hold the panel within 30 days, and then issue a final response within 20 days of the panel hearing.

What happened

  1. Mr B complained to the Council through his MP. He complained about an alleged failure to provide support for his daughter, and what he regards as fault in the way the Council has engaged with his family.
  2. In April 2021 the Council confirmed that it would consider Mr B’s complaint at Stage 2 of the statutory procedure for children’s services complaints. The complaint is still awaiting the appointment of an Investigating Officer some seven months later.

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Agreed action

  1. The Council has agreed that, within one month of our final decision, it will:
    • Appoint an Investigating Officer and initiate Stage 2, providing Mr B with appropriate information about his rights under the process.
    • Offer to make a payment to Mr B of £200 to reflect the seven-month delay in initiating Stage 2 and the uncertainty this has caused.

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Final decision

  1. I uphold this complaint with a finding of fault causing injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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