Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 01 Dec 2021
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Council is at fault for delaying considering a complaint at stage two of the children’s statutory complaints procedure. The Council has agreed to complete its stage two investigation without further delay and will offer to make a payment to the complainant to remedy the time and trouble its delay has caused her.
- The complainant, who I will call Ms X, complains about matters relating to her daughter who is a looked after child. Ms X has asked the Council to investigate her complaint at stage two of the Children Act statutory complaints procedure but has not received a response.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- Under our information sharing agreement, we will share the final decision with the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted).
How I considered this complaint
- I considered information provided by the complainant and the Council.
- I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.
- The complainant now has an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I will consider their comments before making a final decision.
The statutory complains procedure
- The law sets out a three-stage procedure for councils to follow when looking at complaints about children’s social care services. The accompanying statutory guidance, Getting the Best from Complaints, explains councils’ responsibilities in more detail.
- The first stage of the procedure is local resolution. Councils have up to 20 working days to respond.
- If a complainant is not happy with a council’s stage one response, they can ask that it is considered at stage two. At this stage of the procedure, councils appoint an investigator and an independent person who is responsible for overseeing the investigation. Councils have up to 13 weeks to complete stage two of the process from the date of request.
- If a complainant is unhappy with the outcome of the stage two investigation, they can ask for a stage three review by an independent panel. The Council must hold the panel within 30 days of the date of request, and then issue a final response within 20 days of the panel hearing.
- Ms X complained to the Council about matters relating to her daughter, who is a looked after child. The Council considered the complaint under stage one of the statutory complains procedure. Ms X was dissatisfied with its response, so in mid-June she asked the Council to progress her complaint to stage two of the procedure.
- After no progress had been made Ms X contacted the Ombudsman. We contacted the Council and it accepted there had been delays completing the stage two investigation, explaining that it is currently in the process of recruiting more Independents Officers and Independent Persons and it expects to be able to allocate Ms X’s complaint to an Independent Officer within two months.
- The Council should have completed a stage two investigation a maximum of 13 weeks after Ms X requested it. It did not and this is fault. Ms X has not received answers to the questions she raised about her daughter and has been denied the opportunity for independent oversight at stage two of the statutory complaints procedure. She has also been caused frustration by the delay.
- Within two months of the date of my final decision, the Council has agreed to allocate appoint an Independent Officer to investigate Ms X’s complaint and start its stage two investigation, completing it without further delay and ensuring it provides her with appropriate information about his rights under the process.
- Within one month of the date of my final decision the Council has also agreed to offer to make a payment to Ms X of £100 to remedy the time and trouble she has gone to pursuing the complaint and to reflect the delay in the Council dealing with this complaint.
- I uphold this complaint with a finding of fault causing an injustice.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman