Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 04 May 2018
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr A’s complaint that the Council delayed resolution of his son’s case and threatened to prevent him from having unsupervised contact with his son. Mr A had the right to take the issue of contact to court and it would have been reasonable for him to do so. The court has now considered the matter and investigation by the Ombudsman would not lead to a different outcome.
- The complainant, who I will refer to as Mr A, complains that the Council delayed resolution of his son’s case and threatened to prevent him from having unsupervised contact with his son.
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’. 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 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)
- The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone could take the matter to court. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to go to court. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I have considered what Mr A has said in support of his complaint and relevant correspondence provided by the Council. I have also considered Mr A’s response to my draft decision.
What I found
- In September 2016 Mr A's son, who I will refer to as B, left his mother's home and went to live with his maternal grandmother. B was known to the Council and his change of circumstances led to a child protection enquiry. The Council concluded that it was appropriate for B to stay with his grandmother. Mr A says he supports the placement.
- The Council initiated public law proceedings in May 2017. They concluded in December 2017 with a Special Guardianship Order granted in favour of B's grandmother. Mr A believes this is in his son’s best interests.
- Mr A complains that, in the period between B going to live with his grandmother and the end of the legal proceedings, his contact with his son was restricted. He says the Council delayed initiating the legal case and that social workers threatened to recommend that his contact with B should be supervised.
- The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr A's case. As B was living with his grandmother and was not in the Council's care, the Council was not responsible for contact arrangements and had no means to enforce its view that contact should be supervised. If Mr A was not satisfied with contact arrangements, he could have asked the court for a contact order at any time. He says he was initially unaware of this, as he was not legally represented. That does not provide grounds for the Ombudsman to investigate his complaint.
- As the matter has been decided in court, investigation by the Ombudsman could not achieve a different outcome for Mr A. There are therefore insufficient grounds for the Ombudsman to intervene.
- The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr A’s case because he had the right to go to court, and investigation would not lead to a different outcome.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman