Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 07 Dec 2020
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: We will not investigate Ms X’s late complaint about the Council’s actions leading up to the death of her stepson in 2013. This is because there is not a good reason for the significant delay in bringing the complaint to the Ombudsman. We also could not now carry out a fair investigation, nor could we add anything meaningful to the investigation that has already happened and the remedies the Council has already agreed.
- Ms X complained about the Council’s actions in relation to the death of her stepson. She says there were several failures by the Council regarding her stepson’s care as a child with a disability, and protection of the wider community. She does not agree with the outcomes of the Council’s complaint investigation and she says it has not been transparent. This caused significant distress to the family.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, 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:
- it is unlikely we could add to any previous investigation by the Council, or
- it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome.
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the information Ms X provided when she complained to us and discussed the complaint with her.
- I considered Ms X’s and her MP’s comments on my draft decision.
What I found
- Ms X’s stepson, Y, was accommodated in a children’s home in 2013. He took his life shortly after this. Ms X had been raising concerns about Y’s accommodation in the lead up to this. The Council has more recently considered Ms X’s concerns via its complaints procedures.
- Ms X has provided several reasons for the timescales between events and her bringing her complaint to us. Ms X has some specific learning difficulties which mean it has taken her longer to complain. There was a three-week inquest after her stepson’s death, and Ms X made attempts to complain to the Council in 2014 but says it did not respond at the time. Ms X says she made several requests for records, but the Council did not provide everything she asked for. The Council agreed in 2017 to consider Ms X’s complaint through the formal procedures, but this took two years. More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken priority over complaining as Ms X is a keyworker.
- I have accounted for the Council’s delay in considering Ms X’s complaint. I have taken into account the impact on Ms X’s ability to complain of the particularly distressing events involved in this complaint. However, the delay between events and Ms X complaining to us was significant, and I am not of the view there is enough reason for seven years’ total delay before Ms X brought her complaint to us. Ms X could have contacted us in 2014 after the Council did not respond to her attempt to complain.
- In any event, we could not now carry out a fair investigation due to the time lapsed. While the Council has investigated Ms X’s complaint to a certain extent, the investigation report commented that staff had left the Council and important information was no longer available. It is unlikely that we could gain more insight into events than the Council has been able to. Importantly, we could not say the Council was responsible for Y’s death.
- Via the complaints process, the Council acknowledged it had been at fault, although it emphasised it did not believe it was responsible for Y’s death. The stage three report concluded there was a lack of management audit of the case, poor case recording, gaps in assessments and failure to take on board the parents' concerns for Y’s safety. The Council has proposed to pay £5,000 to the family and it has agreed to learn from events. Its stage three investigation report made suitable recommendations and it is unlikely we would add to these. It is therefore unlikely we could achieve a more meaningful outcome, in any event.
- The Ombudsman will not investigate this historical complaint. This is because there is not a good reason for the delay in Ms X bringing the complaint to us. We also could not now carry out a fair investigation, nor could we add anything meaningful to the investigation that has already happened and the remedies the Council has already agreed.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman