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London Borough of Southwark (20 011 663)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 31 Mar 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not investigate this complaint about the Council’s involvement with the complainant and his sister’s children. This is because there is no worthwhile outcome achievable as we are unable to investigate some of the issues raised, and cannot add to the Council’s response or achieve the complainant’s desired outcomes in relation to other issues.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I refer to here as Mr T, says that the Council:
    • Failed to safeguard his sister and her children;
    • Failed to hold the social worker involved to account;
    • Advised him to make a custody application for the children, but then did not support it; and
    • Failed to hold his sister’s partner accountable for alleged criminal acts.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
  2. We may investigate complaints made on behalf of someone else if they have given their consent. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26A(1), as amended)
  3. We cannot investigate a complaint about the start of court action or what happened in court. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5/5A, paragraph 1/3, as amended)
  4. We cannot investigate a complaint if it is about a personnel issue. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5/5a, paragraph 4, as amended
  5. 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
  • 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 considered the information provided by Mr T and by the Council. I have also sent him a draft decision for his comments.

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What I found

  1. Mr T’s raised concerns about the safety and well-being of his sister’s children. The Council looked into his concerns but did not remove the children as Mr T wanted.
  2. The Council told Mr T he would need to make a custody application if he wanted to have the children in his care. Mr T did so, but in court the Council did not support his application.
  3. The court decided that the children should remain in their mother’s care.
  4. Mr T has complained about a number of issues relating to these events.
  5. Firstly, he complains that the Council has not safeguarded his sister and her children properly. We will not investigate this part of the complaint, as Mr T’s sister has explicitly refused to allow him to represent her or to access her and her children’s data. Without her consent, we cannot consider the matter.
  6. Further to this, Mr T alleges that the Council has failed to hold his sister’s partner accountable for criminal acts. It is not for the Council to look into allegations of criminality, and we cannot consider such allegations either, as this would be for the Police to look into.
  7. Mr T is also unhappy with the lack of support from the Council for his care application, as he feels it advised him to take this route. The Council explains that it advised him how to apply for care, but this did not imply it supported his application. We will not look into this aspect of the complaint as it relates to court proceedings, which are out of our jurisdiction.
  8. Finally Mr T has complained about the Council’s response to his complaint, but I do not propose to take this further. This is because we could not add to the Council’s response, which is clear and comprehensive.
  9. Additionally, we cannot achieve the outcomes that Mr T is seeking. He says he wants:
    • The children to be in his care – a decision for the courts;
    • Mr T’s partner to be prosecuted and action taken against the police for not doing so – not a body within our jurisdiction; and
    • The social worker involved to be sacked – we cannot take any action relating to personnel or disciplinary matters.

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Final decision

  1. I will not investigate this complaint as there is no worthwhile outcome that we could achieve. This is because we may not consider some of the issues due to jurisdictional bars, and will not consider the residual issues as we could not add to the Council’s response or achieve Mr T’s desired outcomes.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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