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Durham County Council (21 012 335)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 06 Jan 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not investigate this complaint about the Council’s Children’s Social Care involvement with Miss X. That is because her substantive complaint relates to actions of the Police which are outside of our jurisdiction. Other parts of her complaint are either premature, late or have been considered through the children’s statutory complaints procedure, therefore further investigation would not lead to a different outcome.

The complaint

  1. Miss X complained about the Council’s involvement with her between 2016 – 2018. She said Children’s Social Care asked the Police to listen to her telephone calls and used the Police to prevent her from accessing support. She also said the Council sent emails about her to other parents.
  2. Miss X is also unhappy with the Council’s investigation into her complaints. She said the Council changed its statements between the different stages of the complaints process. She wants her complaints reinvestigating.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about councils and certain other bodies. We cannot investigate the actions of bodies such as the Police. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 25 and 34A, as amended)
  2. We normally expect someone to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner if they have a complaint about data protection. However, we may decide to investigate if we think there are good reasons. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  3. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint unless we are satisfied the council knows about the complaint and has had an opportunity to investigate and reply. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to notify the council of the complaint and give it an opportunity to investigate and reply (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(5))
  4. 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)
  5. The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’, which we call ‘fault’. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint, which we call ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We do not start or may decide not to continue with an investigation if we decide:
  • we could not add to any previous investigation by the organisation, or
  • further investigation would not lead to a different outcome.

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

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered information provided by the complainant.
  2. I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.

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My assessment

  1. The Council had periods of involvement with Miss X between 2016 and 2018 when it worked with the family through child in need or child protection procedures.
  2. Miss X complained to the Council towards the end of 2018. This included complaints about the Council’s communication with her and how it shared important documents. The Council investigated her complaints through the children’s statutory complaints procedure. The Independent Investigating Officer finalised their stage two investigation in June 2020. They partially upheld all the heads of complaint and made 14 recommendations to the Council to address the faults identified.
  3. Miss X remained dissatisfied, and the Council escalated the complaint to stage three of the statutory complaint’s procedure in November 2020. At the stage three panel Miss X said the Council had listened to her telephone calls, altered her emails and monitored her bank accounts. The panel did not consider these complaints as they had not formed part of Miss X’s stage one and stage two complaints to the Council. The panel also considered Miss X’s concerns about inaccurate information provided by staff at stage two of the investigation. The panel were satisfied the Independent Investigating Officer had used a range of evidence including interview and case records in their investigation.
  4. The panel agreed with the overall outcomes of the stage two investigation but made an additional recommendation to the Council about publishing its procedures on its website. The Council sent a letter to Miss X agreeing with the panel’s findings at the end of November 2020.
  5. Miss X complained to the Ombudsman in November 2021. Her substantive complaint to the Ombudsman is about the action of the Police in monitoring her telephone calls. I cannot investigate the actions of the Police as these are outside of our jurisdiction.
  6. I will not investigate Miss X’s complaints about the Council sharing personal information about her with other parents. Miss X has not made this complaint to the Council therefore it is premature. Additionally, complaints about data protection are best dealt with by the Information Commissioner’s Office.
  7. We expect a person to come to come to us within 12 months to complain about something a council has done. Therefore, any dissatisfaction about the Council’s stage two investigation is late and we should not investigate. We have discretion to set aside this restriction where we decide there are good reasons. In this case, I decided not to exercise discretion because it was reasonable to expect Miss X to complain to us sooner. Further still, it is unlikely, we would add anything to the investigation the Council has already completed. The Council has apologised where the stage two investigation found fault and made service improvements.
  8. The Council considered Miss X’s complaints at the stage three independent panel. There is no evidence of fault in how that panel was conducted. Therefore, I will not investigate this further as we would not add anything to the stage three panel’s findings and further investigation is unlikely to lead to a different outcome.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate Miss X’s complaint because her substantive complaint relates to actions of the Police which are outside of our jurisdiction. Other parts of her complaint are either premature, late or have been considered through the children’s statutory complaints procedure, therefore further investigation would not lead to a different outcome.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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