Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 15 Jan 2020
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint about the way the Council treated the complainant during a safeguarding investigation. This is because there is insufficient evidence of fault by the Council and because the complainant can complain to the Information Commissioner.
- The complainant, whom I refer to as Mr X, says the Council harassed him. Mr X says the Council ignored that his restraining order had expired. He also complains about the way the Council communicated with him and its response to his complaints and information requests. He wants an apology and compensation.
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 an investigation if we believe it is unlikely we would find fault. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
- We normally expect someone to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner (ICO) if they have a complaint about data protection. However, we may decide to investigate if we think there are good reasons. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I read the complaint and the Council’s responses. I considered comments Mr X made in reply to a draft of this decision.
What I found
- In 2017 Mr X’s former partner told the Council she was experiencing domestic violence from Mr X. The Council states this involved threats involving a knife.
- A new referral was made to the Council in 2018. The Council received information that Mr X had made threats and was looking after children while drunk. The Council worked with Mr X, and the mother, exploring how domestic violence can affect children. The court issued a restraining order against Mr X. The Council closed the case in November 2018 because the couple had separated.
- In 2019 the Council received a report that Mr X was in contact with the mother. The Council was aware of the history of domestic violence so decided to get Mr X’s views and assess safeguarding. As part of this assessment the Council found out the status of the restraining order. Both parties confirmed the restraining order had expired. After completing the assessment the Council decided not to take any further action and closed the case. The Council told Mr X it could not give him all the information he had asked for but suggested he make a Subject Access Request (SAR).
- Mr X says he was forced to miss work, and lose money, because he had to travel to meet the officer. He says the Council ignored that the restraining order has expired. He says the officer harassed him and asked intrusive questions. He is unhappy with the way the Council responded to his complaints and says the Council failed to respond to his SAR. For example, he says the Council failed to give information about who made the referral.
- In response to his complaint the Council explained that the safeguarding process can be intrusive but the Council has to gather a lot of information. The Council apologised if Mr X felt harassed or intimidated. It explained that a discharged restraining order does not mean that normal social care arrangements will end. It invited him to contact the ICO.
- I will not start an investigation because there is insufficient evidence of fault by the Council.
- Regardless of the discharged restraining order, and given the history of domestic violence, the Council had a duty to carry out an assessment after it was told that Mr X was in contact again with his former partner. The Council has a duty to investigate anything which could impact on the safety of children. Mr X says that previous behaviour does not mean the Council has a “right to exercise authority”. But, it is the history of violence and the Council’s previous involvement with the family, which meant the Council had a duty to take action after receiving the referral.
- I appreciate Mr X felt the questioning was intrusive but councils have to carry out a robust assessment in order to protect the well-being of children. As a result of the assessment the Council decided it did not need to take any further action and it closed the case. If it had not carried out this assessment it might not have been able to reach this view.
- Mr X says the Council failed to respond to the SAR request and has not told him who made the referral. However, in safeguarding cases there is often information that a Council cannot disclose and it may be unable to give detailed information about a referral. If Mr X thinks the Council has wrongly failed to provide information he can complain to the ICO. It would be appropriate for him to do this because the ICO is the appropriate body to consider complaints about information requests.
- Mr X complains about the Council’s handling of his complaints and says many officers failed to respond. I appreciate Mr X may have felt frustrated by the Council’s responses but it is not a good use of public resources to investigate complaint handling when we are not investigating the main issue. In this case the main issue is that Mr X disagrees that the Council had grounds to carry out a safeguarding investigation and I have explained why I am not starting an investigation into that issue.
- I will not start an investigation because there is insufficient evidence of fault by the Council. In addition, Mr X can complain to the ICO.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman