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London Borough of Lewisham (19 020 285)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 30 Mar 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Ms X’s complaint about the Council’s actions leading up to her children being taken into care. This is because the issues are currently before the courts in care proceedings. Ms X can also complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office about her complaint regarding data protection.

The complaint

  1. Ms X says the Council lied about her and accused her of being drunk and abusing her children. She also says the Council took her children into care without informing her and forced her to borrow money.
  2. Ms X says as a result her children are now in care and she would like the social workers concerned to be struck off.
  3. Ms X has also complained the Council shared her medical information with other people.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. 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 we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A (6), as amended)
  3. 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).

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How I considered this complaint

  1. As part of my assessment I have:
  • considered Ms X’s complaint and the complaint correspondence she exchanged with the Council; and
  • issued a draft decision inviting Ms X to comment.

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What I found

  1. On 28 January 2020 Ms X complained to the Council its social workers had falsely accused her of being drunk and of abusing her children. She also said the Council had pressurised her to sign an order temporarily putting her children into care.
  2. The Council responded on 14 February 2020 to say the accusations were not false and she signed the order placing her children into temporary care voluntarily. It concluded by saying it could not comment further because Ms X’s children were now the subject of care proceedings.
  3. The Ombudsman will not normally investigate a complaint where the issues can reasonably be raised in court. The courts are in the process of deciding Ms X’s children’s future. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect Ms X to complain about the Council’s actions to the courts. It is also unlikely we would be able to separate the social worker’s actions from the matters being decided by the courts.
  4. Even if we were to investigate, we would not be able to achieve the outcome Ms X wants which is to get the social workers struck off. This is a matter for the relevant professional body.
  5. Ms X has also said the Council shared her medical information with other people. This is a data protection issue. Therefore, it would be reasonable for Ms X to report this issue to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
  6. The ICO is the UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights. It deals with complaints about public authorities’ failures to comply with data protection legislation. The ICO has wide powers to take action against data controllers.
  7. There is no charge for making a complaint to the ICO. Where someone has a complaint about data protection, the Ombudsman expects them to bring the matter to the attention of the ICO. This is because the ICO is in a better position than the Ombudsman to consider such complaints.
  8. Therefore, Ms X should approach the ICO about her concerns regarding her medical information being shared with others.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because the issues raised are before the courts in care proceedings. Ms X can also complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office about the data protection issues.

Investigator’s Final decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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