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Oxfordshire County Council (21 017 421)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 28 Apr 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We uphold Mr X’s complaint, as the Council delayed considering a complaint at stage two of the children’s statutory complaints procedure. The Council has agreed to complete its stage two without further delay and make a payment for the delay so far.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I will call Mr X, complained to the Council in March 2021 about children services’ actions and it has yet to reply at stage two of its complaints’ process.

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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 Mr X and the Council.
  2. I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.
  3. I considered Mr X’s comments on a draft version of this decision.

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My assessment

The statutory complaints’ 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. Mr X complained in March 2021 about the children services’ actions. The Council replied in May 2021. Mr X made a detailed written request for his complaint to be escalated to Stage Two of the Children Act statutory complaints’ procedure in June 2021. That stage has still not been completed.
  2. An investigation is likely to conclude the Council’s delay here is failure to comply with the statutory complaints’ procedure and is fault which has caused Mr X some time and trouble.

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Agreed action

  1. The Council has agreed within 65 working days of this decision to:
    • Complete a stage two investigation and write to Mr X to inform him of the outcome, ensuring it provides him appropriate information about his rights under the process.
    • Pay him £200 to reflect the delays in the complaints process so far.

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Final decision

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

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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