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Surrey County Council (20 006 738)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 30 Mar 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Miss X complains that the Council responded inappropriately on learning she had made an allegation to police about a former partner. She says the Council’s handling of her complaints was inadequate and that the Council has placed demands on her that affect her ability to find future employment. The Council is at fault. It has agreed to hold a fresh investigation into Miss X’s complaints and to provide a financial remedy for the delay and for Miss X’s time and trouble.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I shall refer to as Miss X, complains about the Council’s response to a referral it received about her. Miss D complains that the Council:
    1. mishandled the referral which led to her being sacked by her employer meaning she has lost her job and pension;
    2. wrongly directed her employer to make a referral to the regulatory body;
    3. produced an inadequate stage 2 complaint investigation;
    4. completed its stage 2 investigation in July 2017, but failed to inform her of the outcome or provide a final response until June 2020;
    5. demanded that she contact it if she is considering working with children. She says this requirement is onerous and unjustified, is still in place and has affected her ability to find employment; and
    6. continues to hold inaccurate information about her on file and has failed to respond to requests that it be destroyed or her own material be held alongside this.
  1. Miss D says the Council’s actions caused her financial hardship, physical and mental illness and distress.

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What I have investigated

  1. I have investigated Miss X’s complaints that the Council delayed informing her of the outcome of her complaint, and that its response was inadequate.

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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’. 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)
  2. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I spoke to Miss X and considered information provided by Miss X and the Council. I shared my draft statement with Miss X and the Council and considered their comments before finalising my decision.
  2. Under our information sharing agreement, we will share this decision with the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted).

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What I found

  1. In October 2015, the Council’s Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub received a referral from the police about Miss X after she made a report about harassment by a former partner. At the time Miss X was working as a teacher at a school. The Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) investigated.
  2. The LADO contacted Miss X and her employer separately. Her employer subsequently dismissed Miss X from her job and later referred her to the regulatory body for teachers.
  3. In March 2016 Miss X complained to the Council about how the LADO dealt with the referral. The Council considered the complaint under its corporate complaints process.
  4. In July 2017, the Council’s Investigating Officer completed his Stage 2 investigation report into Miss X’s complaint. He upheld several elements of the complaint and did not uphold others. He said the investigation had been hampered by the LADO’s lack of co-operation and that he had been unable to access some information.
  5. Miss X chased the Council for the investigation report. However, it was not until June 2020 that it finally sent its formal Stage 2 response and the report to Miss X. It apologised for the delay and for any anxiety this caused Miss X.
  6. The Council acknowledged that Miss X had taken time and trouble to raise her complaint with the Council and it also apologised for this. It also said that, since July 2017, it had made changes to the LADO service and none of the LADO staff involved with Miss X now work in the team.
  7. Finally, the Council said it had reviewed its internal processes and had undertaken work with partner agencies around referral and consultation, to ensure Miss X’s experience is not repeated.
  8. After requesting a meeting to discuss a personal remedy, Miss X approached us. She complained that the investigation and response were inadequate and that an apology was an insufficient remedy. She also complained about the Council’s ongoing approach to her employment and about its handling of information about her.
  9. In my draft decision I recommended the Council confirm the position with regards any requirement that Miss X notify it of future employment applications. This is because Miss X states this is affecting her current employment prospects. She has provided an email from the LADO which she has interpreted as imposing a notification requirement. The Council has confirmed to Miss X that she is under no obligation to have continued contact with the Council. The Stage 2 investigation should include scrutiny of the LADO’s actions in this regard.
  10. In my draft decision I referred to the statutory three stage procedure for investigating complaints about children’s services. The Council has explained that it used its corporate, two-stage process as the complaint was about harm to Miss X rather than to a child.

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Analysis

  1. The Council correctly investigated Miss X’s complaint under its corporate complaints process and produced a Stage 2 investigation report.
  2. The Council is at fault for delaying the release of the investigation report to Miss X. This caused injustice to Miss X who was left in limbo for several years. In my view an apology is an insufficient remedy for the delay. I recommended the Council pay Miss X £600 for the delay and for time and trouble in bringing the complaint and it has agreed to this.
  3. The Council is also at fault in that the Stage 2 investigation is inadequate, due to obstruction of the Investigating Officer. The Council has agreed to hold a fresh Stage 2 investigation to investigate Miss X’s complaints.
  4. If Miss X remains unsatisfied with the Council’s response Miss X can return to us.

Agreed action

  1. The Council has agreed that within one month of my final decision it will:
      1. Hold a fresh Stage 2 investigation; and
      2. Pay Miss X £600 to remedy the delay in releasing the Stage 2 investigation report and for her time and trouble in bringing the complaint.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation with a finding of fault by the Council. It has agreed to hold a fresh review of Miss X’s complaint and to pay a financial remedy in relation to the Council’s complaint handling to date.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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