Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 31 Mar 2020
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs X complained about the Council’s failure to properly remedy injustice caused when a social worker shared inaccurate and damaging information about her son with others. She says this fault caused her and her family significant distress. The Council has already accepted fault and offered an apology and a modest payment to Mrs X to remedy the injustice caused. The Ombudsman is satisfied this is an acceptable outcome and we could add nothing further to the Council’s investigation or remedy.
- Mrs X complains about the Council’s failure to properly remedy injustice caused when a social worker shared inaccurate, sensitive information about her son to his partner’s family.
- She says it has affected many people and caused great upset. Her son’s relationship was put in jeopardy. She says the Council’s remedy is inadequate and wants proper compensation for what happened.
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)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- As part of my investigation I have:
- considered the complaint and documents provided by Mrs X;
- spoken to Mrs X; and
- sent a draft version of this decision to both parties and invited comments on it.
- Under our information sharing agreement, we will share this decision with the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted).
What I found
- Mrs X’s son, Mr B is on the Sex Offenders Register. A social worker (Officer J) was required, because of the nature of his offences, to inform Mr B’s new partner (Mr C) and his family about this.
- Officer J disclosed inaccurate information. This information gave the impression Mr B posed a significant risk to children. According to Mrs X, Mr C’s family were concerned and put pressure on Mr C to end the relationship with Mr B.
- Their relationship remained in jeopardy for several weeks.
- Mrs X’s complaint to the Council about this was upheld. Officer J accepted she has given inaccurate information because she felt under pressure. The Council also accepted it had failed to arrange a meeting with Mrs X to discuss her complaint, despite agreeing to do so.
- Mrs X requested compensation. The Council agreed to pay £50 to acknowledge her time and trouble making and pursuing the complaint and a further £200 to acknowledge the distress caused to the family.
- Mrs X says this is insufficient to recognise the distress caused. She brought her complaint about this to the Ombudsman.
- The Council has already accepted there was fault when the social worker disclosed inaccurate information to Mr C’s family. For this reason, it is not necessary for me to consider this issue as part of my investigation. Instead, I must consider whether the remedy already provided by the Council is adequate. Mrs X says it is not.
- The Ombudsman’s remedies guidance sets out the principles we follow in assessing remedy payments for the time and trouble it has taken pursuing a complaint.
- It explains that we would usually recommend a payment of between £100 and £300, depending on the difficulty the complainant has experienced.
- In cases where the Council’s fault has caused distress, the Ombudsman’s remedies guidance also recommends a payment of between £100 and £300. It can be more in exceptional cases.
- Mrs X says many people were affected by Officer J’s mistake. But I can only consider the injustice to Mrs X. She was clearly affected by her son’s reputation being damaged and the consequences of his relationship possibly ending. But Mrs X says the correct information was given to Mr C’s family within two weeks and the relationship did not end.
- The fault was therefore remedied within a relatively short period of time and the injustice mitigated. The Council accepted fault in its complaint response and offered Mrs X an apology and a modest payment.
- I consider this to be an acceptable outcome and in line with the Ombudsman’s remedies guidance.
- I have completed my investigation and uphold Mrs X’s complaint. There was fault by the Council which caused injustice to Mrs X. I am satisfied the Council has taken action to remedy this injustice.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman