Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 17 Jan 2020
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman cannot investigate Mrs X’s complaint about the information the Council provided a Court. We should not investigate her children’s welfare as a Court is considering this.
- The complainant, whom I shall call Ms X, says the Council completed inaccurate assessments, provided a Court with inaccurate information, holds inaccurate information and has been unfair to her.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We cannot investigate a complaint about the start of court action or what happened in court. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5/5A, paragraph 1/3, as amended)
- The Courts have said that we cannot investigate a complaint about any action by a council, concerning a matter which is itself out of our jurisdiction. (R (on the application of M) v Commissioner for Local Administration  EHWCC 2847 (Admin))
- We have the power to start or discontinue an investigation into a complaint within our jurisdiction. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we think the issues could reasonably be, or have been, raised within a court of law. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 24A(6) and 34B(8), as amended)
- We normally expect someone to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner 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)
- 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 there is another body better placed to consider this complaint. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the information Ms X provided with her complaint. Ms X had the opportunity to provide comments on a draft version of this decision.
What I found
- Ms X says the Council’s children services team produced inaccurate reports about her children. She says the Council made unsubstantiated statements about her family.
- Ms X says the inaccurate information and comments mean the Council produced an inaccurate Children Act section seven report. The Court ordered the Council produce this report on the children’s welfare as it had to decide the children’s care arrangements. Ms X believes the Court cannot make a fair and unbiased decision on their care arrangements because the Council’s report is unfair.
- Ms X also says the Council held a child protection conference which did not run fairly. She says the Council has assigned multiple social workers to the family. She says the Council holds inaccurate information about her and her family. She says the Council has not acted properly on her complaints.
- We cannot investigate the quality of information the Council provided to a Court. We cannot investigate the preparation, service or content of a section seven report.
- It is reasonable to expect Ms X to tell the Court of the errors in any information provided to a Court if she feels the information could affect the Court’s decisions.
- It is not suitable for us to investigate the Council’s actions effect on the family as the Court is considering the children’s care and welfare.
- Parliament set up the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to oversee the Data Protection Act. Holding inaccurate information can be a Data Protection Act breach. Given Ms X’s complaint involves child protection, for which there are complex exemptions, and court documents which we cannot investigate, it is reasonable to expect Ms X to complain to the ICO.
- It is not a good use of public resources to investigate complaints about complaint procedures, if we may not deal with the substantive issue.
- The Ombudsman will not and cannot investigate this complaint. This is because we cannot investigate the information the Council gave a Court nor the children’s welfare as the Court is considering this.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman