London Borough of Sutton (20 006 306)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 06 Dec 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mrs B’s complaint that the Council was at fault in its response to a safeguarding referral concerning her daughter. This is because we cannot achieve the outcome she is seeking.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I will refer to as Mrs B, complains that the Council was at fault in its response to a safeguarding referral, in carrying out an assessment and in deciding to pursue the matter.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered what Mrs B has said in support of her complaint and in response to my draft decision. I have also considered the complaint correspondence provided by the Council.

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What I found

  1. Mrs B’s daughter was the subject of a safeguarding referral from a medical professional. The correspondence shows that the referral alleged that Mrs B’s daughter had been diagnosed with an eating disorder. Mrs B says her daughter had no such condition, so the Council’s decision to act on the referral and carry out an assessment was flawed.
  2. Mrs B further complains that the Council continued to pursue child protection and child in need action after it had been shown that her daughter did not have an eating disorder. When the Council subsequently closed its case, it said it did so at Mr and Mrs B’s request. Mrs B contends that it should have done so because its involvement was unnecessary.
  3. Mrs B wants the Council to accept it was at fault and apologise. She also wants it to remove all references to eating disorders from her daughter’s records and require all parties it communicated with on the matter to do the same. Finally, she wants the Council to change its reason for closing the case.
  4. The Ombudsman will not investigate Mrs B’s complaint because we cannot achieve what she wants. Councils have a duty to consider all referrals and it is for the professional judgement of officers to decide what action is required. It is not for the Ombudsman to retrospectively decide what that action should have been.
  5. The Ombudsman would not criticise the decision to accept a referral from a medical professional, even if that referral is subsequently shown to be based on inaccurate information. Decisions on whether to assess, pursue or close cases are for the Council to make and the Ombudsman cannot intervene to substitute alternative views or decisions, unless the Council’s decisions are demonstrably so unreasonable as to be perverse or outrageous. I do not find that is the case here, however strongly Mrs B disagrees with the Council’s position.
  6. The Ombudsman does not ask councils to retrospectively alter their files or remove information from them. This is because the files constitute a contemporaneous record of the case. The most we will normally seek to achieve is that a record of the complainant’s dissenting views is added to the file. Mrs B has made a formal complaint and this provides a record of her dissenting views. There is nothing further the Ombudsman can achieve. If she wishes, Mrs B may pursue the right to rectification set out in the General Data Protection Regulation.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because we cannot achieve what Mrs B wants.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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