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Lancashire County Council (21 009 888)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 24 Mar 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council is at fault for delaying consideration of this complaint under the children’s statutory complaints procedure. The Council has agreed to arrange a stage three panel and increase the payment offered to the complainant for the time and trouble its delay has caused her.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I will call Mrs X, complains about how the Council’s children’s services supported her and her son. However, she has not yet received a final response to her complaint.

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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. Under our information sharing agreement, we will share the final decision with the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted).

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered information provided by the complainant and the Council.
  2. I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.
  3. The complainant has had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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My assessment

The statutory complains procedure

  1. 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.
  2. The first stage of the procedure is local resolution. Councils have up to 20 working days to respond.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

What happened

  1. In November 2019, Mrs X complained to the Council about how its children’s services had supported her and her son. The Council considered her complaint under the statutory children’s complaints procedure and issued a stage one response in January 2020.
  2. Dissatisfied Mrs X asked for her complaint to be progressed to stage two. This was completed in December 2021. In the Council’s response the Council acknowledged that there were delays in dealing with Mrs X’s complaint and offered her £250 to remedy the time and trouble she had gone to pursuing her complaint.
  3. Mrs X asked for her complaint to be progressed to stage three of the statutory complaints procedure. The Council liaised with Mrs X and her advocate and proposed a meeting to discuss the complaint. Mrs X however declined this offer. The Council subsequently asked the Ombudsman to consider assessing the case as an early referral without a stage three panel being arranged.

Analysis

  1. There are some circumstances in which the Council may discuss with the complainant an early referral to the Ombudsman, without a stage three review taking place. But this complaint does not meet the criteria. Therefore, a stage three panel should have been convened without delay. The Council’s failure to do so is fault.
  2. There have been delays in dealing with Mrs X’s complaint at all three stages resulting in the process taking more than two years to complete. Mrs X has not received answers to questions he raised and has been caused frustration by the delay. This is fault.
  3. The Council has acknowledged some of that delay and offered to make a payment to Mrs X. However, after careful consideration I do not consider that the payment sufficiently remedies the time and trouble she has been to pursuing her complaint.

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Agreed action

  1. Within one month of the date of my final decision, the Council has agreed to:
    • Arrange a stage three panel to consider Mrs X’s complaint.
    • Increase the time and trouble payment offered to Mrs X to £600, to reflect the time and trouble she has gone to pursuing her complaint and to reflect the significant delay with the Council dealing with her complaint.

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Final decision

  1. We uphold this complaint with a finding of fault causing injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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