Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 28 Jul 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 him.
- The complainant, who I will call Mr C, complains about the outcome of a Child and Family assessment, which concluded that his adopted son was ineligible for support from the Council’s Disabled Children’s Team. Mrs C 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 Mr C and the Council.
- I contacted the Council and invited it to remedy the fault I had identified.
- 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.
- Mr C complained to the Council about a Child and Family assessment which concluded that is adopted son was ineligible for support from the Disabled Children’s Team.
- The Council considered Mr C’s complaint under stage one of the statutory complains procedure. Mr C was dissatisfied with its response, so in mid-November he asked the Council to progress his complaint to stage two of the procedure.
- Mr C pursued the matter with the Council, but after no progress had been made he contacted the Ombudsman. We contacted the Council and it accepted there had been delays completing the stage two investigation. This was due to a shortage of Independent Officers and pressures cause by COVID-19.
- The Council should have completed a stage two investigation a maximum of 13 weeks after Mr C requested it. It did not and this is fault. Mr C has not received answers to the questions he raised about his son’s assessment and has been denied the opportunity for independent oversight at stage two of the statutory complaints procedure. He has also been caused frustration by the delay.
- Within one month of the date of this decision, the Council has agreed to:
- Complete its stage two investigation and write to Mr C to inform him of the outcome, ensuring it provides him with appropriate information about his rights under the process.
- Make a payment to Mr C of £200 to remedy the time and trouble he has gone to in pursuing his complaint, and to reflect the Council’s delay in dealing with his complaint
- I uphold this complaint with a finding of fault causing an injustice.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman