Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 09 Dec 2020
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Council was at fault for failing to respond to Mr B’s complaint about its social work involvement with his children. It has agreed to apologise, and to respond to the complaint.
- The complainant, whom I refer to as Mr B, complains about the Council’s social work involvement with his children. He says the Council failed to provide proper support, and made the children subject to a child protection plan without evidence. He also says the Council failed to respond to his complaint.
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)
- Under the information sharing agreement between the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), we will share this decision with Ofsted.
How I considered this complaint
- I considered information from Mr B and the Council. Both parties had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.
What I found
What should have happened?
- The statutory guidance Getting the best from complaints (‘the guidance’) sets out how councils should administer the statutory complaints procedure required by the Children Act 1989 (‘the Act’) and the Children Act 1989 Representations Procedure (England) Regulations 2006 (‘the Regulations’).
- The statutory procedure must be used if a council receives a complaint from an eligible person (including a child’s parent) about how it has discharged its duties under certain sections of the Act.
- The guidance says there are three stages to the statutory complaints procedure: a local response from a council (stage 1), an independent investigation (stage 2), and a review panel (stage 3).
- Complaints can be referred to the Ombudsman before all three stages of the complaints procedure have been completed. However, this can only be after
stage 2. The early referral must also be agreed by the complainant.
- The Act and the Regulations set out which of a council’s duties are subject to the statutory complaints procedure. These do not include its child protection duty under section 47 of the Act.
- The Council’s children’s social work department was involved with Mr B’s family for most of 2019. From March until November, the children were subject to a child protection plan.
- In November, shortly after the Council had ended the child protection plan and closed the case, Mr B submitted a formal complaint.
- The Council initially registered this complaint as a corporate complaint, then, in January 2020, re-registered it as a statutory complaint. However, Mr B received neither a corporate nor a stage 1 statutory response.
- The Council says it should have responded to Mr B’s complaints about matters prior to the initial child protection conference under the statutory procedure, and should have responded to complaints about the child protection process under its regional child protection complaints procedure.
- The Council acknowledges that it failed to respond under either procedure. It offers an apology and a remedy of £350 to recognise Mr B’s injustice.
- If an eligible person makes a complaint about how a council has discharged its duties under certain sections of the Children Act, then the council must – with limited exceptions – consider that complaint under the statutory complaints procedure.
- The Council has already identified that it should have sent a stage 1 response to part of Mr B’s complaint under the statutory procedure, and it was at fault for not doing so.
- The Council has also identified that it should have considered the part of Mr B’s complaint about the child protection process – which is not covered by the statutory procedure – under its separate, regional child protection complaints procedure. It was, again, at fault for not doing so.
- Because it is too early for me to consider the statutory part of Mr B’s complaint (as the early referral criteria are not met), I do not consider it appropriate for me to consider any part of the complaint.
- The Council should now deal with this complaint in line with the relevant statutory and regional procedures. Although I note its offer of a financial remedy, my view is that an apology and a proper complaint response will adequately remedy
Mr B’s injustice.
- The Council has agreed to write to Mr B and apologise for its failure to respond to his complaint.
- The Council has also agreed to deal with his November 2019 complaint in line with relevant regional and statutory procedures.
- These actions should be completed within timescales required by the respective procedures. The Council should provide evidence of completion no later than five weeks after the date of my final decision.
- The Council was at fault for failing to respond to Mr B’s complaint about its social work involvement with his children. The agreed actions remedy his injustice.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman