Norfolk County Council (20 007 695)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 08 Dec 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not investigate Mr X’s complaint about how the Council handled an incident at his child’s school in 2017. This complaint is late and there is not a good reason Mr X did not complain sooner. In any event, we could not achieve the outcomes Mr X seeks.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complained the Council carried out child protection enquiries when his son’s school reported the family to the Council. This followed events at the school involving alleged sexual misconduct. The Council arrived at their home unannounced, with false statements. Mr X says the Council allowed the school’s Designated Safeguarding Lead to bully his child and to report lies to the child’s new school when they moved schools in November 2017.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  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:
  • it is unlikely we would find fault, or
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants, or
  • there is another body better placed to consider this complaint.

(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information Mr X provided when he complained to us.
  2. I considered information the Council provided.
  3. I considered Mr X’s comments on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. An alleged incident took place between children at Mr X’s child’s school in 2017. The school’s Designated Safeguarding Lead and Ofsted both reported this to the Council. The Council carried out enquiries. Mr X’s children moved to a new school in November 2017.
  2. We cannot investigate complaints brought to us more than 12 months after events, unless there are good reasons for the delay. Mr X says the reason the complaint was still ongoing until recently is that the Council has refused to cooperate since 2017, for example not responding to information requests. We do not require a person to have detailed records before they can approach us with their complaint, because we obtain the information we need to investigate.
  3. The Council considered the case in 2018 under its processes for complaints that come via Ofsted. This involved completing a report and sharing it with Ofsted, but not with Mr X.
  4. Mr X says he complained to the Council about its actions in late 2017, but I have only seen evidence he discussed the matters with the Council at that time, and complained to the school and Ofsted. The first evidence I have seen of Mr X making a formal complaint directly to the Council about its actions was in March 2019, already more than 12 months after events concluded. The Council responded in April 2019. Mr X then complained to the Council again seven months later, in November 2019. The Council responded later that month. Mr X complained to it again ten months later, in September 2020. The Council sent a final response to Mr X in November 2020 and he then contacted us.
  5. There is not a good reason for the significant delay in Mr X progressing matters and bringing them to us. We should not now exercise discretion to consider events from 2017.
  6. Even if we exercised discretion on time, it is unlikely we would find fault by the Council. Where there is a concern about a child’s safety, the Council has a duty to carry out enquiries, so that it did so is unlikely to be fault. A large part of Mr X’s complaint relates to the actions of the school, which are not within our jurisdiction. Part of the complaint is also about delays in the Council responding to information requests. This is a matter for the Information Commissioner’s Office.
  7. In any event, we also could not achieve the outcomes Mr X seeks. He seeks dismissal of staff and better qualified, “English speaking” staff to be employed. This is not within the Ombudsman’s powers. He also seeks “compensation”, which we cannot award in the way the courts can. We may recommend token financial payments when appropriate for things like distress, but Mr X seeks over £60,000 due to costs including legal fees since 2017. This is a matter for the courts.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because it is too late and there is not a good reason Mr X did not complain to the Council, then the Ombudsman, sooner. In any event, we could not achieve the outcomes Mr X seeks.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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